Local girl's wish comes true

By Clay Wilson

When the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted Savanna Hamrick's wish to be a "princess for a day," it gave the McDonough 9-year-old a gift that will last much longer.

"In a way, she kind of gets to be princess for a day every day," said Contrina Linthicum, Savanna's mother.

Seated on her plush bed, wearing a tiara, Savanna indeed looked like young royalty. Her beaming, infectious smile seemed to cast a glow on the pink, purple and white walls of her freshly redecorated room.

"I like that," she said, pointing at a glass slipper that reflected the soft, pink light of a glittery lava lamp.

Until the middle of last month, Savanna's room wasn't princess-themed. But a small royal entourage of caring individuals transformed it in accordance with her fondest wish to a fanciful throne room.

Savanna has ataxia telangiectasia, a degenerative disease that affects the part of the brain that controls muscular movement. According to her mother, she was diagnosed with the rare, incurable disease when she was 2 years old.

Savanna was a perfect candidate for a Make-A-Wish Foundation grant. According to its mission statement, the Foundation "grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."

Since 1980, the Foundation has granted more than 110,000 wishes to children around the world. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Georgia and Alabama, which worked with Savanna, granted more than 400 wishes in 2003.

Contrina Linthicum said she found out about the Foundation through another family of a child with ataxia. She and Savanna's father, Heath Hamrick, talked about the possibility of trying to get a wish granted for their daughter, and Hamrick contacted the Foundation.

Once a child is accepted as a wish recipient, Make-A-Wish staff and volunteers begin working with the family. Often, said Make-A-Wish Georgia/Alabama Communications Coordinator Paulette Brown, the first step is getting the child to express their dearest wish.

"Some of them start out with a pizza party. We're like, ?No, think bigger,'" Brown said.

Tom Linthicum, Savanna's stepfather of five years, said having her room redecorated wasn't Savanna's first choice, either. He said she expressed a desire to swim with dolphins.

But Linthicum, an aircraft maintenance technician for Delta, said the family has a timeshare membership in Orlando, so that is a wish they could grant themselves. He also noted that they get a lot of complimentary travel through his job.

"We wanted (Savanna) to do something that we thought she would get something out of n not just a trip," he said.

Savanna decided to be a princess. "You get to wear pretty dresses," she said, when asked to explain why.

She did get to do that, but she also got a lot more. Make-A-Wish volunteers repainted her walls, set up matching, white furniture and decked out her bed with a resplendent comforter set called the "Lavender Jewel Collection."

On May 15, while the volunteers put the finishing touches on her room, Savanna was treated to a tea party hosted by a former butler of England's royal family at the Royal Affair Caf? in Sandy Springs.

She returned for a horse-drawn carriage tour of her subdivision, a stroll down a rose-petaled walkway to her revamped room and a crown presentation. She also got a makeover at McDonough's S&S salon and a portrait session in her princess outfit from Tanzie Bailey Photography.

Other local businesses that chipped in to make Savanna's wish come true included Belk, CVS Pharmacy, Publix, Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, S&S Martinizing and McDonough Flowers and Gifts. According to Brown, the donors' contributions amounted to about $1,000 in materials and labor.

"The community was so great in responding to this story and this little girl," she said.

The Linthicums said they appreciate all the efforts, and although she didn't explicitly say it, Savanna's delight was evident from her face.

"It was amazing, Contrina said. "The whole process was just amazing."