When West End Elementary School fifth-grader Nuluu Johnson saw her family walk into the lunchroom Friday morning, she was a tad bit confused. But confusion quickly turned into sheer surprise, as the tears began to well up in her eyes, knowing her wish had been granted.
“God answered my prayers,” she said. “I’m just really, really excited.”
The wish Nuluu Johnson had made two years ago, to return to Uganda to see her relatives and go on a safari, seemed to be far from coming true up until three days ago — but she didn’t know that. Her family had been contacted by volunteers with Make-A-Wish Georgia, telling them that her wish was to be fulfilled during winter break of this school year.
Two and a half years ago, Nuluu Johnson received a cancer diagnosis — a tumor had planted itself at the base of her brain, right behind her eyes. Surgeries, including a craniotomy, and radiation consumed much of her life, and medical complications from the now-stable tumor and the treatment of it continues. Unlike many of the other Make-A-Wish kids, Nuluu Johnson’s illness is not terminal.
The tumor has rendered her pituitary gland, which makes critical hormones that control a number of bodily processes including growth, nonfunctional. Several medications, which she will have to take for the rest of her life, now provide what her body would have produced naturally had the tumor never manifested.
Nuluu Johnson was adopted by Jeremy and Mandi Johnson from a Ugandan orphanage when she was 4-years-old — they also adopted their son Fred from her village.
On Friday, her family, along with Rome City Schools administrators, waited in the media center while she made her way to the cafeteria. Pam Simmons and Michelle Simmons were the two volunteers there to make the announcement — they act as the family’s liaisons for making all necessary preparations for the trip.
After giving the go-ahead for the family to go to the cafeteria, Principal Buffi Murphy took up the microphone and said there was a very special announcement to be made. Pam Simmons called Nuluu up from her seat, and she was handed balloons and a bouquet of flowers by Michelle Simmons.
She was smiling brightly as Pam Simmons told her, “You’re going to Africa.” She embraced four of her five siblings in a group hug, before turning to her mother.
There was likely not a dry eye in the room, Murphy said.
“Every family’s different,” said Pam Simmons about the uniqueness of Nuluu Johnson’s wish. “You can tell this one is different.”
Making it back to Uganda is particularly important to her because her grandmother is ailing, and she is motivated to see her while she still can, said Jeremy Johnson.
Teacher Jackie Weed approached the Johnsons before they left. She told them about one of the school’s custodians who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. The kids wrote cards to him, but Weed said Nuluu went above and beyond, penning a heartfelt note detailing her own struggle with cancer and offering hope.
Her card now has its place on the custodian’s refrigerator.