By TAYLOR HARTZ
When it came time to interview 3-year-old Daniela Ciriello, she pulled up a chair and said “Now, let me tell you all about Mickey Mouse.”
Dressed in a floor length Little Mermaid gown and a three-tiered tiara, the wide-eyed brunette danced with excitement around the room as her parents answered questions for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
When changing into the new costume, a gift from the foundation, she paused for a moment to point out a mark that both identifies her sickness and keeps her alive.
Beneath Daniela’s sparkling princess dress is a small incision on her chest.
“Its for my tube,” said the 3-year-old.
The incision marks the place where she receives a blood transfusion every three weeks. Every three weeks, she spends a day at the Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, receiving the transfusions she needs to survive.
At 14-months-old, Daniela was diagnosed with Beta Thalassemia, a rare genetic blood disorder.
Her medical care involves two daily medications, two injections every other day, and regular trips to several specialty doctors, including a hematologist and an infusion clinic.
When she is not receiving her treatments, Daniela is a normal 3-year-old who loves all things Disney.
As the family gathered in their living room on Sept. 22 to answer questions about their ideal vacation, Daniela quickly rambled off the names of more than a dozen princesses she can’t wait to meet.
When the two volunteers from the Connecticut chapter of Make-A-Wish came to the Ciriello home, it was like Christmas morning in their living room.
Daniela danced around in her mermaid costume and crown as her siblings ripped the wrapping paper off of several new toys.
But the best gift is yet to come.
This summer, the family will take a 5-night Disney cruise through the tropics, where her parents said they all hope to earn “a much needed break.”
“White sand, beautiful beaches, and Mickey Mouse,” said Daniela’s father, Dan Ciriello. That’s why they chose a Disney cruise for their daughter’s wish.
Ciriello said the family pays more than $10,000 each year in out-of-pocket medical expenses to keep Daniela alive, and that makes a family vacation out of the question.
In addition to raising three children, working, and caring for Daniela, the couple organizes several blood drives each year.
Rather than fundraising, the couple aims to collect donations that will save their daughter’s life. They have four blood drives scheduled for this season, and have already hosted more than a dozen.
“Blood is what keeps her and others alive,” said Dan Ciriello, who has helped organize all the drives.
Ciriello said the family has hosted the drives at local churches, schools, “anywhere someone who has been touched by her story and wants to help,” and usually exceed the collection goal and keep their donation time fully booked.
While the family views the blood drives in Daniela’s honor as a chance to help their daughter and countless strangers stay healthy, the family is looking forward to five days on the water where they can focus on family fun, rather than Daniela’s sickness.
In the meantime, Daniela will continue to sing along to her favorite princess ballads, re-watch the Disney Cruise Line DVD a few dozen more times, and receive her transfusions every three weeks.
If their numbers stay steady, Daniela’s story will help the family collect more than 200 more productive units of blood before their trip, with the potential to save more than 600 lives.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Hartz, email her at THartz@SouthingtonObserver.com.