Brittany McDonald, 16, of Wallowa looks like a rodeo princess with her long dark hair in a braid and her rhinestone decorated cowboy boots - and it's that rodeo princess side of herself that she's going to enjoy the most this summer.
From July 31-Aug. 1, McDonald is going to go camping with Country Western performer Tim McGraw when he comes for the Oregon Jamboree in Sweet Home.
The special event is McDonald's wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"Someone anonymously called and nominated Brittany," said Brittany's mother, Kathy McDonald. "They won't tell us who, though I tried to find out so I could thank them."
Folks in Wallowa County like to help Brittany anonymously, and Kathy is grateful for the opportunity to issue heartfelt thanks to ... well, just everybody.
Brittany suffers from a constellation of diseases and disorders including autism and Williams Disease, a rare genetic condition (estimated to occur in one of every 7,500 births), which causes medical and developmental problems. She was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease in December 2007. Crohn's Disease is a type of chronic, inflammatory bowel disorder controlled only by a number of prescription drugs, one costing $265 per month. Once folks in the county heard about that, they donated enough money to a special fund to cover Brittany's expensive medicines for a year. Other folks have dropped off hay for Brittany's little mustang or a food basket for the family.
And now there is the Make A Wish trip.
Brittany is thrilled, and thankfully, although she knows the trip is extra special, doesn't understand that Make A Wish grants wishes to very, very sick kids.
Kathy would like to keep it that way. Her big goal is to sacrifice any normal life of her own to give Brittany as normal a life as she can. Brittany attends Wallowa High School, mainstreaming with the other kids for art and physical education and working with a tutor for other classes. Her favorite subject is music. Brittany rides her little mustang when she's feeling up to it. And Brittany has a summer job stocking shelves at Goebel's and Shell Mercantile, just like any kid.
But, of course, Brittany isn't "like any kid."
Living a normal life requires a lot of medical support for Brittany. Despite her diagnosis last December, treatment for Crohn's Disease -intravenous steroids and three different prescription drugs - has not addressed ongoing health issues from severe anemia to the threat of total organ failure.
"Since last September, we've spent more time in the hospital than we have at home," Kathy said. The condition of her blood is so serious that she can't take her usual medicines for Crohn's. Doctors are concerned that she may have internal bleeding, but aren't sure.
There's just a lot of pain for her," said Kathy. "But she's a trooper, even when she doesn't feel good she wakes up happy and go-lucky."
Brittany may be receiving a new treatment, an entire blood exchange, April 13. Doctors warn that she may have to begin kidney dialysis soon. And the fact is, Kathy McDonald "very, very worried" about getting Brittany to her treatments, let alone getting her to Sweet Home for her date with Tim McGraw.
"My number one goal is to put tires on my truck," Kathy said. "I've worn my tires literally down to the threads. My secondary goal is to have money to cover my expenses driving back and forth and staying over there when we go."
The duo try to arrange stays at Ronald McDonald House when they make their twice-monthly trips, but there are a lot of sick kids who need that service and Kathy has had to foot the bill for a stay in a hotel many times.
Most of the time Kathy McDonald relies on the Oregon Health Plan, a small legacy left by her late husband and his extended family, and her own wages earned as farm help for several area ranches. But those sources can't quite cover the sort of medical expenses the parent of a medically fragile and special needs child must afford.
And that means Wallowa County residents again have the opportunity to help Brittany.
Brittany's Wallowa County friends want to make sure she continues to get the best health treatment OHSU can supply, and make sure she arrives for her date with Tim McGraw with a new swimsuit. That is why they've have organized "Brittany's Raffle" and invited everyone in the county to purchase a ticket. Prizes include artwork by Shelly Tippett, which can be viewed at Les Scwab in Enterprise; a Native American Flute designed by local artist Roger McGee; two tickets for a ride on the Wallowa Lake Tram; dinner for two at Range Rider; dinner at the Hydrant; or a stud service from a Registered Kiger Mustang. Tickets are $2 each or 6 for $10 and can be purchased at Goebels, The Cougar's Den, The Hydrant or by calling Kathy at 886-2890. The drawing for the prizes will be held May 2 at the Lostine Tavern. Kids are welcome to that event. You need not be present to win, but Brittany will be there and you can come hear about her Jamboree plans. She'd love to tell you.