Kaitlin Knezacky, surrounded by her sister Chelsea, 19, mother Amanda Hewson and father Michael, will spend a vacation in Disneyland with her family, thanks to The Sunshine Foundation of Canada. The 13-year-old Kelowna girl received the surprise news Saturday.
Kaitlin Knezacky's face lit up as she walked into the Winners store in West Kelowna on Saturday. The 13-year-old Kelowna girl arrived to a crowd of well-wishers, a princess-themed celebration and the biggest gift of all - a trip to Disneyland.
Kaitlin was chosen as a "Sunshine child" by The Sunshine Foundation of Canada, which granted her dream of going to Disneyland.
"It's really important for them to experience this and learn that this isn't going to shape my life - I get to shape my life the way I want to," said Depinder Mann, with The Sunshine Foundation.
Kaitlin has CHARGE syndrome - a genetic pattern of birth defects, often life-threatening, that occurs in about one in every 9,000 to 10,000 births worldwide. She is partially visually impaired.
Kaitlin said she's excited about the trip.
"I chose Disneyland because I haven't been there before," she said.
Kaitlin's 19-year-old sister, Chelsea, said the trip will be a good escape for the family of four.
"It's something she's wanted to do for a while, and I think she's really excited and it makes her happy," Chelsea said.
Kaitlin was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome two weeks after she was born. Since then, she's had several surgeries. Her mother, Amanda Hewson, was particularly emotional at Saturday's event.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm really excited for my daughter to get this experience," she said.
She said her daughter has never let her illness get in the way of her day-to-day life.
"She doesn't let it bother her. She's not a child that cowers in the corner and feels sorry for herself. She's very outgoing and talkative - too much at times," she said, laughing.
Winners and HomeSense have raised more than $5.6 million since teaming up with The Sunshine Foundation in 1999. Since 1987, The Sunshine Foundation has granted more than 7,000 dreams across Canada.
Hewson doesn't think her family would have been able to make a trip like this if it wasn't for The Sunshine Foundation.
"Maybe in the future, once we could get back on our feet, we could have," Hewson said.
"But without their help, it wouldn't have been possible," she said.
The family is looking forward to heading to sunny California. Kaitlin already has plans to eat at Ariel's Grotto and share a Critter Breakfast with her family at the Grand California Hotel with Chip N Dale. They leave March 11.