For 3-year-old Zariyah Walls, a common cold is anything but. It takes the Las Vegas girl weeks or even months to fight one off.
That’s because when she was just a few months past her first birthday, Zariyah was diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency, a disorder that impairs her immune system, making her vulnerable to other illnesses and diseases.
Despite her illness, Zariyah, in many ways, is just like lots of little girls her age. She loves princesses, castles and dancing, and she dreams of visiting a magical kingdom that offers all three.
On the eve of her fourth birthday, Zariyah learned she will get to travel to such a place when the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada presented her with a trip to Disney World during a special celebration Sunday at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas.
“She is a really happy child,” her grandmother, Shonnda Alford-Moore, said. “Even when she’s going through something or she’s sick, you wouldn’t know it. She always has a smile on her face.”
She added: “I just want Zariyah to always be herself, even though she doesn’t have a normal childhood.”
Her grandmother got her way as she watched Zariyah take in the sights and sounds of the evening celebration on the First Street Stage.
Two glamorous showgirls dressed from head to toe in purple — Zariyah’s favorite color — greeted her.
Then a group of flash mob dancers from Step Up Academy of the Arts dance team surprised Zariyah by dancing to her favorite song, “Juju on that Beat” by Zay Hilfigerrr and Zayion McCall.
Zariyah eventually overcame some initial shyness to join the dance troupe and bust a few moves of her own.
DISORDER HAS NO CURE
The evening was a far cry from her usual routine, which consists of getting dosages of six medications, probiotics and vitamins, and monthly trips to the clinic.
Since she was an infant, Zariyah has been constantly sick.
“Fevers, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, she had it all,” Alford-Moore said. “She would be on different types of antibiotics and she still wouldn’t get better. Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.”
After the diagnosis was finally made when Zariyah was 16 months old, the family learned the disorder has no cure, her grandmother said. But it can be treated through blood plasma infusions, which the girl undergoes once every four weeks for four to six hours to help her gain antibodies.
Because she has only one good vein, she had to undergo surgery for a chest port to receive the monthly treatment more easily.
“She starts to fight every time we try to access her port for the transfusion,” Alford-Moore said. “She kicks and screams because it hurts her. Last time we went she said, ‘You better let me go.’”
Zariyah also suffers from side effects, including headaches, vomiting, muscle pain and fevers.
On top of that, she has gastroparesis, or delayed stomach emptying, which causes her to feel full and refuse solids.
CHANCE TO JUST BE A KID
“Zariyah has been through a lot and she deserves a trip like this,” her grandfather, Nathan Germany, said. “Everyone who meets her falls in love with her. She’s so much fun to be around.”
In total, the trip costs $9,000, but with the help of community partners, it cost the foundation just $3,000, according to Abby LeGrand, wish coordinator with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“Our hope is that this wish will give her positive encouragement, so that she doesn’t have to worry about the illness that she deals with,” LeGrand said. “I know that kids are resilient, but I’ve seen miracles come out of these wishes.”
Zariyah leaves for Disney World on Friday with her grandparents and her mother, Reba Walls.
“This is a blessing for us,” her teary-eyed mother said Sunday. “She gets to see the world and experience a new place. I think this trip will bring us all closer together.”