SAN ANGELO, Texas – “The idea is to make them feel very special for one day,” Mandy Shaff, volunteer host for Western Wishes said.
Since moving to Weatherford, Texas a few years ago, Shaff says she wanted to get involved in an organization that helped others. Now, she is a volunteer host for Western Wishes and takes children to rodeos across the Lone Star state and beyond.
Shaff says their business model is like Make-A-Wish but the children they grant wishes for don’t have to be terminally ill. She says children who have learning disabilities, Autism, and various other medical issues have been nominated.
“These are kids who are often overlooked or who have a hard time because they’re different. This is just a way for them to get out there and have them be the center of attention in a positive way,” Shaff said.
During the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo, Shaff was able to take two Concho Valley children and their families or caregivers to rodeo performances on February 1, 2020. Lauren, 16, and her caregiver, Karley Pettiet, and Brianna, 10, and her mother, father, and brother.
Below, Shaff gives a brief description of each girls’ biographies:
“Lauren is 16 years old and lives in San Angelo. She was nominated by Megan Kirkwood of Sonrisas Therapeutic Riding. Lauren was born with a very rare genetic disease called CFC. (Cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome) Some studies suggest only about 200-300 people worldwide have this condition. She suffers from a couple of cardiac issues such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and has to take medicine to keep her heart from beating too fast. Lauren has a myriad of skin problems and vision issues. She can see but is thought to have no depth perception. She operates at the level of around a 3-year-old but is able to express her needs. Despite all of these challenges, Lauren’s mother Jennifer describes her as the happiest child. One who is good-natured and will light up your day. Lauren has been taking lessons at Sonrisas since she was 3 or 4 years old. Jennifer said it has helped her tremendously by improving her posture, muscle tone and digestion among many other things. Lauren loves horses despite being a little fearful of them when she first started! I believe in the power of a horse and it make me happy to see how much they have benefited Lauren. I am very excited to bring her to the San Angelo PRCA rodeo!
Brianna is 10 years old and lives in San Angelo. She was nominated by Megan Kirkwood of Sonrisas Therapeutic Riding. When Brianna was 4 years old, she was diagnosed at Cook Children’s Hospital with Autoimmune Encephalitis, a group of conditions that occur when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy brain cells, leading to inflammation of the brain. She specifically suffers from ataxia, which is impaired coordination of movement and balance with a lack of muscle control during voluntary activity. She receives IVIG treatments (infusions) every 3rd week. Brianna has tremors in her hands which makes it hard to write, although the infusions have been helping with that part. Her immune system is weak, so she is sick a lot. She has missed quite of bit of school but is attending now and is able to do physical therapy at her school. Brianna loves horses and takes lessons at Sonrisas Therapeutic Riding. It has helped tremendously with strengthening her core and her coordination. Her mother, Socorro, describes her as strong and outgoing. As a mother she can tell when Brianna is feeling bad, but she is tough and tries not to show how she is feeling. I am excited to take Brianna and her family to a rodeo because due to financial constraints, they have not been able to go much in the past.”
*Photos in the video courtesy of Mandy Shaff.