Turlock second-grader gets dream playhouse from Make-A-Wish

mrowland@modbee.comSeptember 3, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textMarijke Rowland
    Title: Arts & Entertainment Writer
    Coverage areas: Fine arts, pop culture and other entertainment throughout the Central Valley and foothills.
    Bio: Marijke Rowland has been a reporter at The Bee for 15 years. She grew up in the Midwest and has a degree in journalism from Indiana University. She has covered several beats at The Bee from education to entertainment to employment.
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Owners of new homes often feel an inflated sense of pride about their new place.

Same goes for playhouses.

When Turlock second-grader Isabella Crutcher walked into her back yard Saturday afternoon, she found a brand-new playhouse waiting for her, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The first thing she did was run inside. The second thing she did was make her older brother take off his shoes before he was allowed to enter.

"I can't wait to have people over, my friends, and have tea parties," said Isabella, who goes by Bella. "I had a plastic playhouse when I was little, but it was old and dirty and had cobwebs. So I really wanted a new playhouse. And here it is. Now I always want to check on my house."

Bella's wish was granted by the regional Make-A-Wish chapter over Labor Day weekend. Seventeen workers from Home Depot stores in Turlock and Riverbank as well as Make-A-Wish staff volunteered their time to build the 8-by-8-foot structure complete with a loft bed, Dutch doors, screened windows, front porch and white picket fence.

The wish was granted because Bella, who turns 7 today, had a kidney transplant in May 2012. She first fell ill about a year earlier from hemolytic uremic syndrome, a condition caused by a strain of E. coli that damaged her renal system and caused kidney failure. Bella also suffered from pancreatitis, an enlarged heart and fluid on the lungs.

Luckily, Bella's father, Les Crutcher, was a perfect match and donated one of his kidneys to her. The surgery was performed at Stanford University's Lucille Packard Children's Hospital.

Hospital staff there referred Bella to Make-A-Wish. As a child with a life-threatening medical condition, she qualified to have a wish granted. Some 75 percent of the children the foundation serves are not terminally ill.

Michele Flynn, communications and outreach director for Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada, said the group grants some 250 wishes a year in the region. Nationally, the foundation helps some 14,000 sick children annually.

When Make-A-Wish first qualified Bella, she and her family met with staff and she selected three wishes. One was to meet Justin Bieber. Another was to meet the band Big Time Rush. And another was a playhouse. The staff then worked with her parents to grant one of the wishes while keeping it a secret.

The two celebrity wishes were deemed too risky, given Bella's transplant and medication, which leaves her permanently immunosuppressed.

Work done on holiday weekend

For the playhouse wish, Home Depot donated materials and labor to build the playhouse. To keep it a surprise, Bella was told she would be spending a staycation in a Turlock hotel with her grandparents Friday. With her birthday and Labor Day coming up, it seemed a natural fit, Les Crutcher said.

The workers stayed nearly 12 hours Friday, then on Saturday finished up with painting, decorating and accessorizing the playhouse. The exterior is yellow with blue trim, to match her house. The interior is pink, her favorite color.

"You don't want your child to qualify for Make-A-Wish. But they did a great job. They didn't know Bella, but they donated their time," said Bella's mom, Cynthia Crutcher.

At 1 p.m. Saturday, Bella and her grandparents returned and she was told to meet her parents who were "working on the trees" in the back yard. Instead she found her playhouse and a yard full of the volunteers and family members for her big surprise.

"I was like, 'Wow, a house for me?' she said. "It was so fun. I spent all Saturday playing."

Inside, Bella's playhouse is equipped with a rug, table and chairs, brightly colored tea set, bean bag chair, bookshelves, art easel and white board. Bella's only other request for her house was that no boys be allowed inside. The signs stating such are still on their way. But she said she plans to make one exception.

"I was thinking about that, and only one boy can come in — that's Cameron," she said of her 9-year-old brother. Although everyone else, she said with glee, can "Get off my lawn!"

Recovering after transplant

Bella has been doing well since her transplant, able to attend school and participate in activities. At the beginning of the summer, she experienced some complications that had her back in the hospital briefly. Doctors are closely monitoring her condition, and she goes in at least once a month for blood tests. Her family always keeps a "go bag" packed for her, just in case.

She has been able to go from 17 daily medications right after the transplant to just five a day now.

None of it seems to faze Bella, who zips from one part of the playhouse to another showing off her new digs. After the reveal Saturday, the volunteers and family members stayed for a big party with cake and cookies.

The next morning, Les Crutcher said, Bella came downstairs and said she needed to check on the house because she thought maybe it was all a dream.

And it turns out that being the owner of a new playhouse is far better than meeting Justin Bieber.

"It's better because it's real and I can play in it," Bella said. "I couldn't play with Justin Bieber."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @TurlockNow.

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