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Twin Falls girl with lung disease has dream of seeing all 50 states in her lifetime

Her family is asking for support from the community in helping her dream come a little closer to becoming a reality this Summer.
Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 10:24 AM MDT
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TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) —A young Twin Falls girl has a dream of visiting all 50 states in her lifetime, and she is already more than halfway there. Now her family is asking for support from the community in helping her dream come a little closer to becoming a reality this Summer.

Karlee Willis looks, talks, and acts like most 13-year-old kids. She enjoys spending time with her friends, singing, drawing, and most of all traveling with her family. She has already visited 34 of the 50 states, with her favorite being California.

“I really like beaches and places with horses,” Willis said. “I want to see everything the U.S, and other places have to offer. I want to be able to say ‘I have been there’.”

However, when Willis was a baby she was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a hereditary disease that affects the lungs and digestive system.

“So if your lungs were a balloon, you have difficulty blowing up the balloon,” said Willis. “and you have to try really hard to do that. It is like there is a hole in the balloon, and it’s really hard to blow it up.”

She has to take medication about five times a day before every meal, and once a day she wears a vest that vibrates while she inhales a saltwater mist to break up the thick mucus in her lungs.

“It vibrates and beats the mucus out of my lungs, so I can get it out and not drown in my own fluids and stuff,” Willis said.

Like most kids, COVID has been tough on her. Before COVID hit she was already wearing a face mask and social distancing in public due to her weakened immune system. Now with the pandemic, she feels even more isolated.

“The first six, seven months of COVID I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. I couldn’t go outside. I couldn’t even go in the backyard and that,” Willis said.

Willis and her mom Ashley Stevenson, jokingly said that she was living in a COVID world with face masks, social distancing, and hand washing before the pandemic. She said illnesses hit her harder than most kids. For every three days, an average person gets sick, is a week of illness for her. Due to her condition, she has a close-knit circle of friends she hangs out with, and some physical activities are a struggle for her.

“Like a week ago I went on a mile and a half run, and afterward for a good two days I had a migraine and was really sick,” said Willis. “I was like throwing up and stuff afterward because I just over-exerted myself.”

With vaccines rolling out and travel loosening up Willis’s family wants to take her on a special trip this Summer of the New England states. Stevenson thinks this Summer will be a good time to travel because fewer people will be out vacationing due to the pandemic.

“We may have only 30 years, or 18 years so that is why these trips are super important. We want her to experience everything while she is healthy,” Stevenson said.

Her mom said the life expectancy for someone with Willis’s condition is mid-30′s, and they don’t ever want the day to come where she is in a hospital with regrets and places she wishes she had seen.

To help cover travel expenses her family started a GoFundMe page for Willis with a goal of $2,000, and hopefully, this Summer she can get a few steps closer to achieving her dream.

“I want her to be able to experience how beautiful the world is, even though she may have been dealt a different hand in life,” Stevenson said.

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