Los Gatos girl gets surprise from Make-A-Wish Foundation after dream trip put on hold

Outside a home in Los Gatos, a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation was putting together a special balloon display.

It was a surprise for 7-year-old Collette Towler who has battled leukemia for the past two years but now is in remission.

"Amazing," Collette said. "I went outside then I saw all these balloons decorated."

Truth be told, this was not Collette's Make-A-Wish.

She and her family were all set to take a trip to Australia in April to get up close with a koala bear. But the coronavirus pandemic put that on hold for now. 

"They're just really really cute. I really wanted to hold one," she said. 

"It is nice to have something like this while she waits and knows people are supporting her," said her mother Sara Towler.
The balloons were a way to bring some joy during tough times.

"What better way to do it than bring smiles to kids whose wishes weren't granted for now," said balloon architect Argelia Castro,

For all the misery COVID-19 has brought, among the worst is having to tell a very sick and even terminally ill child their wish, especially if it involves travel, can't happen just yet.

"It's hard to have that conversation. We're in the hope and joy business and to have to pull that back a little and say hang on a little longer," says Betsy Biern, executive director of Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area.

The organization handles 350 to 400 cases a year in the Bay Area, 4,000 nationwide.

If possible, Make-A-Wish tries to see if something else works that can still include sheltering in place.

"It's heartbreaking. And yet, there are times that are just great about it. There are things, you have never seen a child so joyful as when they get a beautiful puppy," Biern said. 

For Collette, it's been a tough road filled with hospital stays and daily chemo treatments. She was looking forward to seeing her friends at school. But now even that must wait. 

So for now, perhaps the balloons will keep her spirits up.

"It's a joyful day. And it is so nice to know they are still thinking of us, and know that she is patiently waiting for her wish," said Towler.

And maybe the koalas are too.