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Anna Marie meets Cinderella

Special Photo 
(From left) Alexandria Dingess, 4, Austin Mark Dingess, 3, and Anna Marie Dingess, 9, stand with Disney's Cinderella, a favorite character of Anna Marie.

Special Photo (From left) Alexandria Dingess, 4, Austin Mark Dingess, 3, and Anna Marie Dingess, 9, stand with Disney's Cinderella, a favorite character of Anna Marie.

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Nine-year-old Anna Marie Dingess got to live a little girl's dream recently, when she paid a visit to Disney's fairy tale princess, Cinderella.

Anna Marie, a second-grader at East Lake Elementary School in McDonough, enjoys watching the animated Disney film, Cinderella, on days that she is not ailing from migraines, according to her mother, Joy Dingess.

Joy, 29, said her daughter was diagnosed in 2006, with a pseudo tumor cerebri, called intercranial hypertension.

The condition can be a life-threatening illness, and is caused by an excessive amount of fluid in the skull, that causes brain-tumor-like effects, said the mother. She explained that her child has undergone brain surgeries, and received several shunts to relieve pressure on the brain and "temporarily lost her vision in August 2008, due to pressure buildup."

"She's been afflicted with the condition since September 2006," said Joy. "She's like this little woman, because she's had to grow up really fast. She spent a lot of time in the hospital talking with the doctor."

Anna Marie, the oldest of three children in her family, is stricken with migraines on a regular basis, according to her mother.

"I don't like them because they make me angry, they make me mad," said Anna Marie. "They make me not be nice."

The tyke and her family were nominated by relatives and awarded a free trip to Orlando, Fla., in December, for the holidays. The trip -- a week-long vacation to Sea World, Universal Studios, and the Magic Kingdom -- was sponsored by the Holiday, Fla.-based non-profit, Kid's Wish Network and its affiliates. The partnership helps children who have serious illnesses realize their dreams and wishes.

"It was cool, fun," said Anna Marie, of the trip to Orlando and meeting her favorite characters Cinderella, Snow White, Goofy, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck.

"She just loves the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella's castle," said her mother, Joy. "That is her favorite place to go."

Writing by e-mail, Anna Marie's military-deployed father recounted the family's experience.

"Anna Marie has endured so much in the last four years," said her father, Mark Dingess, 33. "Since 2006, she has had over 14 back surgeries and two brain surgeries. We have spent a lot of nights in hospital rooms."

The father said the costs associated with taking his daughter to specialists at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has been "tremendous" since Anna Marie fell ill.

"Not only has this family had to tend to Anna's medical issues, they have had to deal with the hardships of a deployed father," said Mark Dingess, who is serving overseas in the U.S. Army's 221st MI Detachment out of Fort Gillem. "As a member of the U.S. Army, I have been deployed for eight months, and this has proven to be hard on all my children.

"When I got my two weeks of leave, I wanted to surprise the children by showing up in uniform at their schools," he continued. "Unfortunately, due to weather in Europe, the Air Force was unable to pick us up. I was able to surprise the children, though. It made their week."

Mark's wife said their daughter was surprised when her father greeted her the morning of the family's Orlando trip. It began the soldier's nine-day leave.

Anna Marie had fallen asleep on the couch the night before, because "she was too excited," her mother explained. She was awakened by her father.

"He said, which way to papa's house? Can you tell me how to get there," said Joy, noting that her husband's parents live next door. She said Anna Marie thought she was dreaming at that point.

"She woke up, and he was there," Joy said. "She was sleeping on the couch and when she woke up, you could tell she thought she was dreaming. She grabbed his neck and cried."

Before the trip, Anna Marie had last seen her father in April of 2010. She expects to see him again this April.

Joy said the Orlando trip was exactly what their daughter needed, having gone through a rough year of treatments and surgery.

"She's had three surgeries in the last three months, and just being able to not think about the real world was great," Joy said. "She got to leave reality, and she wasn't in pain. It was amazing."

"The trip to Orlando served as a well-deserved break for all the members of this family. Kid's Wish Network is a great organization. We were humbled by the fact that Kid's Wish Network decided to send us," Mark added.

"The pain of dealing with Anna's sickness was alleviated and forgotten about for those five days," he said. "The children absolutely loved the amusement parks, and it kind of felt like we were a normal family again."

To learn more about Anna Marie, visit her web site at www.teamannamarie.org.