By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Step aside, Ariel. There’s a new mermaid in town.
Her name is Anna Kuhn. And while the 6-year-old lives in York, Penn., a four-hour drive from the nearest ocean side locale, she got a chance last month to test out her aquatic moves in a finny fantasy played out at pools in Boca Raton.
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida joined forces with the Boca Beach Club and WPTV Channel 5 to pull together Anna’s complex imaginative desire – to be a TV reporter/mermaid who gets a chance to interview other mermaids.
Channel 5 provided the technology, the Beach Club cleared one of its shoreline pools for the splish-splash activity and mermaids flipped their way south from Orlando where they are part of Joe O’Rourke’s Mermaid Academy, a new business that fulfills the storybook process of transforming people into one of the mythical sea creatures.
To bring Anna’s wish to life, the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Make-A-Wish got in touch with the South Florida group who made the Boca area arrangements.
Make-A-Wish helps people with serious illnesses fulfill a dream wish. Anna’s parents, John and Laura Kuhn, said their daughter fell in love with mermaids, princesses and animals. John said Make-A-Wish provided accommodations for the family at the Boca Beach Club along with a stipend for local travel. The family planned to visit Gumbo Limbo Nature Center and the Palm Beach Zoo, among other spots, before heading back to Pennsylvania.
Mom and Dad said their only daughter has a complex congenital heart ailment and has already undergone several heart surgeries as well as operations for her hips and back. She faces some additional work on her heart, but that may be years away.
As the Kuhns watched their daughter’s water follies from chairs along the edge of the pool, Dad commented: “To look at her, you wouldn’t know that the past couple of years have been pretty tough.”
After watching her flip and spin in the water for a couple more minutes, he added: “She’s a pretty good swimmer.”
Anna is currently a kindergarten student. Dad is director of IT for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Mom is a special education teacher.
Pressed for a comment about the wish, the couple said they couldn’t figure why Anna wanted to combine a mermaid meeting with TV reporting. But a Channel 5 crew provided the expertise and Anna, with microphone in hand, questioned Helen O’Rourke, daughter of Mermaid Academy owner Joe, and Elizabeth Erra, a Make-A-Wish coordinator who transitioned into the role of “mermaid for a day.”
Anna’s celebration with ladies of the sea began when she met a group of them along the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean just east of the Beach Club. She accepted a magic conch shell and donned a Lycra-spandex monofin to literally slip into the mermaid mode. She also attended a pizza party with her fellow mermaids.
For Anna, the day closed as she watched her taped interview with the mermaids broadcast on WPTV’s 5 o’clock news.
“I had a lot of fun,” she commented, a bit shyly.
“Make-A-Wish Southern Florida has granted more than 11,000 life-changing wishes since 1983 for children who have critical illnesses,” said Richard Kelly, chief operating officer of the Southern Florida chapter which networks with others around the nation.
“The chapters aim to grant a wish for every medically-eligible child in their territory.” The Southern Florida chapter’s area includes 22 counties/four regions in southeast and southwest Florida, Tampa Bay, the Sarasota area and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Kelly said chapters receive a wide variety of wishes. Anna’s desire – to be a TV reporter – fell into the category of “occupational wish,” he said.
“These,” he noted, “tend to be a little more unusual.”