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Saturday Celebration Highlights Unusual Wish

The bounce house, barbecue and balloons made it look like a birthday party.

But this party was a little bit bigger than that, with the Van Vliet family of Escalon celebrating the completion of their daughter's 'Make a Wish' project.

Julianna Van Vliet, 13, pretty much considers herself a normal eighth grader, enjoying spending time with friends, listening to music, swimming and gardening. But she has fought a tough battle the last few years, diagnosed at age nine with Wegener's Granulomatosis, a form of vasculitis. The disease caused damage to both her kidneys, leaving her with only about 50 percent function in each. She underwent a year of chemotherapy and has also had steroid treatments to help battle the disease. Now, she has gotten the upper hand and is on maintenance medicine, along with having routine tests done to keep track of her progress. She is also staying in touch with physicians at Stanford.

Saturday afternoon, a family gathering hosted for friends, neighbors and officials of the Make a Wish program who helped make Julianna's wish come true, included dedication of her new barn, which is surrounded by animals she loves.

San Joaquin County Make a Wish volunteer Rosi Gallegos and advisory board member Katrina Kidd were on hand for the celebration.

"The wish children are referred to Make a Wish, typically by doctors or people that take care of them," Gallegos explained. "Then two volunteers are sent out."

Volunteers meet with the Make a Wish participant, in this case, Julianna, and hear two to three of their wishes. Those are then taken to the office in Sacramento for consideration and the organization determines which 'wish' they can help make come true.

For Julianna, it was having a place especially for her animals, with goats, a dog, a cat and bunnies all in the fold. A little area around her new barn was fenced in, creating a small pasture, and the barn itself includes a loft for Julianna and an area for her two rabbits.

"We did a wish delivery," Gallegos said, smiling.

Kidd said it was the first time she can remember someone wishing for a barn to share with her animals.

"This is a unique one," she admitted. "She's very passionate about animals."

Parents John and Kathy Van Vliet said the party was given to thank those involved in helping make the wish a reality, along with a way to recognize those that have helped the family during the journey. The Make a Wish Foundation was at the top of the list, with special thanks also for Tuff Shed for donating the barn, Creative Touch Interiors for linoleum flooring, Jay's Fencing for the fenced in corral, Joe and Corrie Dick for the loft ladder and railing, in addition to a special sign, Richard Gilton for the donation of three goats and Julianna's grandma Carol Stein, who did some decorative painting.

"This is the best part," Gallegos said about coming to enjoy the barn dedication. "We're the good guys."

The barbecue stayed fired up, kids enjoyed the bounce house, Julianna was more than happy to show visitors her new barn and Kidd said the day was a testament to the spirit of perseverance.

"This is the fun part," she said.

For her part, Julianna said she was excited with the wish project and happy to see it completed.

"I either wanted a barn or a trip, probably to Hawaii, or a greenhouse because I love plants," she said of her three choices. "I'm very happy with the barn."

Four goats - Buddy and new arrivals Billy, Mocha and Reese's - contentedly chomped at the grass in the newly fenced in corral adjacent to the barn. Julianna's rabbits, Snowy and Velvet, were perched in cages on opposite sides of the barn, munching on treats. The family dog and cat were also in evidence, greeting visitors. Julianna's schoolmates and friends Nicole Ray, Jessie Whitfield and Anneke Mallett were also enjoying the tour of the new barn and posing for photos with her.

"We invited people who worked on it and a bunch of family and friends," Julianna said, proud of her barn. "Yesterday I was up there (in the loft) with a Starbucks, a book and an MP3 player."

Mom Kathy said though the barn was put in a little bit earlier, they waited until the fencing was done and the project was complete to host the party.

"It's been consistent," she said of the flow of people coming to share the celebration. "People coming in and out, we're slowly showing the barn and feeding people through the process."

All the Van Vliet children, Julianna and siblings Brad, Cynthia and Johnny, were there to greet guests along with their parents.

"It's our way of thanking the Make a Wish foundation and the people that contributed," Kathy said. "Especially family and friends, through the illness they were very supportive."

Though Wegener's Granulomatosis is rare, affecting only about one in 20,000 to 30,000 people, it is one that affects the immune system. There is no known cause and currently no cure, but early diagnosis and treatment can result in the disease going into remission. Julianna is busy now being an eighth grader at Ripon Christian and stays active at school and at home.

"I do dance and I love to swim," she said. "And I like soccer."