A zoo menagerie — including a parrot, a boa constrictor and an African pygmy hedgehog — greeted 5-year-old Finn Seamans of Odenton on Wednesday when he arrived at a courtyard between two office buildings in Elkridge.
But the animals, provided by the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, were only a preview of coming attractions.
This month, Finn and his parents leave for a trip to California's wine country to admire giraffes and wildebeests at an African-style preserve, thanks to Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic. The organization, a chapter of the national Make-A-Wish foundation, grants the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses, such as Finn, who was born with pulmonary hypertension and heart defects.
Wednesday's petting zoo was part of a send-off for Finn outside the offices of the Howard County affiliate of UnitedHealth Group, a Make-A-Wish partner that helped fund the trip. Officials said UnitedHealth has funded more than 2,136 wishes for the charity since 2007.
Ben Goldstein, a company representative, said UnitedHealth Group partners with Make-A-Wish to "support the health and well-being of the communities where our employees live and work."
Finn's party started on a dubious note — a wasp stung the boy's hand. But like any good explorer, Finn shrugged off the sting and joined a group of his friends in petting the animals.
"I fed it a french fry!" Finn triumphantly told his mother, Alison Delaney, as the diner in question, a chinchilla, sat in its cage.
Finn's heart defects became apparent soon after he was born, said Delaney. After listening to the newborn's heart, a nurse had told his mother, "This isn't a typical [heart] murmur," Delaney recalled.
With his unusual heart defects, Finn's "a bit of a mystery" to doctors, Delaney said.
But for now, she said, the boy's mitral valve is holding up and he's in better health than ever.
Delaney called the trip a "reward" after years of doctor's visits and uncertainty, including a six-month hospital stay.
"When family and kids go through so much, we're offering them respite from treatment and something to celebrate," said Tara Wilson-Jones, communications officer for Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic.
Finn and his parents are set to leave July 31; after a brief stay in San Francisco — where Finn plans to check out the sea lions that frequent Pier 39 on San Francisco Bay — the family will head to Safari West to see more animals and spend a few nights in safari-style lodgings.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun