Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Dream of becoming a mermaid helped girl, 7, bounce back from leukemia

Legs pressed tightly together, 7-year-old Amelia Collins stood at the edge of her grandparents' pool and smiled.

Then, the Ocala girl with the brunette, Shirley Temple curls screamed, "I have my fins back," and jumped into the water.

Without separating her legs, she swam by whipping her lower body up and down — like a mermaid.

"She's always wanted to be a mermaid," said her mother, Kathryn Collins. "It's her dream."

The unique movement also helped Amelia recover from the damage caused by the chemotherapy treatments she received to help fend off leukemia. Swimming like a mermaid rebuilt her muscles.

Now, it has helped her dream come true.

KAPOW! TO BRAIN TUMOR: Meet Batman's 8-year-old sidekick, who defied the odds

With assistance from the Tampa nonprofit Makers United for Children's Hope, or the MUCH Foundation, Amelia donned a finned tail Saturday and swam with the iconic mermaids at Hernando County's Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

"She was twisting and twirling underwater with no effort," said Zachary Hurst, founder of the MUCH Foundation, which works to bring fantasy to life for sick children. "She didn't look like she was pretending. She was a mermaid."

Kids at the Weeki Wachee summer camp get to swim with the mermaids. So do other sick kids.

But Amelia stands out, Weeki Wachee spokesman John Athanason said.

"Sometimes kids who swim with the mermaids get a little overwhelmed by the vastness and coldness of the springs," Athanason said. "That little girl had no fear whatsoever. The moment she got in the spring she was a mermaid."

Amelia didn't know it, but she had been training for her immersion into the sisterhood of mythical sea creatures.

Starting at age 2, she'd press her legs together in the tub and declare she had fins.

And when she learned to swim, she began copying the mermaid style.

Then two years ago, she began to feel constant pain in her legs.

She was diagnosed in July 2015 with leukemia, a cancer of the body's blood-forming tissues, including bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Age 5 at the time, she was given just a 41 percent chance of surviving another five years.

Amelia underwent chemotherapy for the disease and it caused her muscles atrophy, Collins said. Walking became difficult and there was concern that without exercise, her bone density wouldn't develop properly.

So in May, the family turned to the pool, hoping the weightlessness there would reduce the stress on Amelia's body.

It worked.

Amelia swam with joy like a mermaid, a motion that's also great for strengthening the body's core.

The Weeki Wachee opportunity came up by chance.

While at an Ocala literacy event, Amelia began playing with a hula hoop near the booth of the Literacy Council of Marion County.

Chatting with the council's program assistant, Yamila Acosta, Amelia mentioned her cancer.

"She had been through so much and still had this attitude that could light up a room," Acosta said. "She amazed me and I decided I wanted to do whatever possible to make her wishes come true."

Acosta is also a project coordinator of Heartlezz Ryderz, an Ocala motorcycle and auto club that helps families in need.

Some of its members recently assisted Hurst's MUCH Foundation in building a cave in Clearwater so a boy who recently had a brain cyst removed could spend time with Batman.

They reached out to Hurst about Amelia and he called Weeki Wachee.

"I can't believe how many people worked to do this for my daughter," Collins said, fighting back sobs. "It restores my faith in people."

Amelia may never again have a natural gait to her walk or play active sports like many kids her age, Collins said.

But her cancer is in remission.

"I will not take any moment with her for granted," Collins said.

"And she now says, 'Mom, everyone should dream big because you never know. It could come true.'"

Contact Paul Guzzo at pguzzo@tampabay.com. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

 
Comments

High school scoreboard for Dec. 15

Friday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 7, Clearwater 0Osceola 9, Bradenton Bayshore 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Plant 1Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 0, Plant 0Lennard 4, Armwood 1
Updated: 6 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Fri., Dec. 15, midday:01 563 0000e_SRit95765Fri., Dec. 15, evening:12 287 1492e_SRit04851Fantasy 5Fri., Dec. 15...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Gators play Nebraska, still seeking elusive volleyball title

Gators play Nebraska, still seeking elusive volleyball title

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is very little these days that can dampen the mood of Florida volleyball coach Mary Wise, whose Gators knocked off reigning national champion Stanford in Thursday’s NCAA semifinals and face Nebraska tonight for the title. Not...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s child protective investigator has been fired and could face criminal charges after an investigation found she made a child custody recommendation to a judge as a favor to a friend.Jayne Johnson, who has worked for the She...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Festivus 2017: Send us your best grievances

Festivus 2017: Send us your best grievances

Here's your chance. Tell us what annoyed you in 2017, and we'll share it with our readers.
Updated: 8 hours ago
Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

Experts chart path for Hillsborough to grow smarter before sprawl takes over

TAMPA — Nearly 600,000 more people will live in Hillsborough County by 2040, and if elected officials and county planners don’t take bold steps now, the population boom will turn the county into the soulless sprawl of Anywhere, U.S.A.That’s the messa...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Highlights of GOP compromise bill to overhaul tax code

WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress have blended separate tax bills passed by the House and Senate into compromise legislation that seeks to achieve a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s tax code. GOP leaders are looking toward passage of the final pa...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

Tillerson retreats on offer of unconditional N. Korea talks

WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat stepped back Friday from his offer of unconditional talks with North Korea, telling world powers that the nuclear-armed nation must earn the right to negotiate with the United States. Secretary of State Rex Tillers...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

Judge signals release of ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort to Florida home under curfew and GPS monitoring

A federal judge Friday said a bail package has been put together that would release former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort from home confinement in his condominium in Virginia and allow him to reside at his house in Palm Beach Gardens, but unde...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men who ran from deputies and shot a dog were captured after a brief pursuit Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.They ditched a stolen car, ran away on foot, crossed through several yards and then tr...
Updated: 10 hours ago