Maui News

Wish Granted: Nine-Year-Old Battling Kidney Disease Leaves Mark on Maui

By JD Pells
June 29, 2021, 10:13 AM HST
* Updated July 1, 5:30 AM
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Skylaa arrives at her house. Her Wish Day took place Satuday, June 25. Photo by JD Pells.

A wishful nine-year-old from Kahului left her mark on Maui with the help of her grandparents, Maui community and Make-A-Wish Hawaiʻi on Saturday.

Skylaa has lived with her grandparents, Emeli and Nelson Castillo, since she was two months old as a result of family complications and has been in a long battle with kidney disease, all the while becoming a rising talent in the art world.

“That’s why she qualified for a wish,” said Director of Mission Delivery Kari Bogner. “She loves life, you can just tell she has this vibrant spirit about her. She has this artistic eye. She can pick the most random thing out of her house and make some art out of it and has this eye for color and space and all of these things that create an artistic talent.”

Skylaa was six years old when she picked up her first coloring book. That was also the same year she was diagnosed with kidney disease.

Bogner and Make-A-Wish Hawaiʻi responded, bringing Skylaa’s wish of becoming a traveling artist to a reality. Local partners also collaborated with Skylaa’s volunteer Wish Granters to give her a full day of activities before her ultimate wish was granted.

  • Skylaa is greeted by her volunteer Wish Granters, Make-A-Wish workers and fellow wish recipient Pua. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Skylaa arrives at her house. Her Wish Day took place Satuday, June 25. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Skylaa has her wish granted. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Skylaa’s grandparents look on as she unwraps gifts. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Photo by JD Pells.
  • Amanda Bowers of Skelefin Studios hugs Skylaa Saturday during the Art Lesson. Photo Courtesy of Crystal Sakai.
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Wish Day began with a Walking Art Tour in Wailuku tour guided by Kelly McHugh, manager of Small Town * Big Art. The tour was followed by an art lesson, where Skylaa worked with Amanda Bowers of Skelefin Studios on her wall mural in Wailuku while receiving tips, techniques and knowledge from the highly trained artist along the way.

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Skylaa’s contribution to the mural, which is currently located at Wailuku Municipal Parking Lot, was a pink plumeria. It may well be the last piece she leaves behind on Maui for the moment, as she prepares to join her dad on the mainland soon.

Bowers, Skylaa and her brother help paint the mural during the Art Lesson Saturday afternoon. Photo Courtesy of Crystal Sakai

But the traveling artist needed one last thing before she leaves — her wish granted.

Skylaa was the first to step out of the limo when it got to her house. She was welcomed by a custom sign that had themes from her two favorite games, Roblox and Minecraft.

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Greeting her also was a small crowd made up of volunteer Wish Granters, Make-A-Wish employees as well as October’s wish recipient, Puanani “Pua”, who returned to capture the action during Skylaa’s big day as a way to “wish it forward.”

Pua “wishes it forward”. Photo by JD Pells.

The celebration continued in the house, as Skylaa swiped and sampled a bit of frosting off of an ‘art cake’, courtesy of Melissa Ribillia of Blissful Bites by Mel.

Grandparents Emeli and Nelson Castillo were beginning to feel the emotions of a special moment come to fruition for their granddaughter. “We weren’t expecting something this big,” Emeli Castillo said. “It’s a beautiful experience for us because before her we weren’t really interested in art, but then she showed a lot of interest, so now we are.”

  • Skylaa has some fun with the wrapping paper. Photo by JD Pells
  • The wish cake provided by Blissful Bites by Mel. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Art by Skylaa. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Art by Skylaa. Photo by JD Pells.
  • Skylaa makes a dent in the stack of presents provided by donors. Photo by JD Pells.

Skylaa found her ultimate wish when she opened her bedroom door. She was met with a wall of her own original art and an assortment of wrapped presents that she could spend the next hour or more opening.

Her grandparents watched as she went through present after present with her brother by her side and Pua filming from the carpet — which had already been stained with paint from some of Skylaa’s past projects.

Gifts included an iPad, iPad pen, two luggage bags designed for art supplies, a variety of canvases, cabinets and — of course — painting supplies. When asked which gift she’ll use first, her grandparents answered, “probably be the iPad.”

“I think overall just working with this family was a humbling experience,” Bogner said. “We have grandparents that are taking care of their grandchildren at this time and just are so involved and hands-on in everything that they do. It’s inspiring to us.”

Her grandparents will have to say goodbye after 9 years of raising Skylaa. “Whatever she decides to do, we’re going to support her in what makes her happy,” they said.

Skylaa and grandparents Emeli and Nelson Castillo return from the Art Lesson for the ultimate wish. Photo by JD Pells.

Since spring of 2020, Skylaa’s volunteer Wish Granters Crystal Sakai and Shan Hilo have engaged with her over Zoom, trying to learn all they could about Skylaa from a virtual setting. Saturday was their first time meeting her face-to-face.

“Volunteer Wish Granters Shan and Crystal helped Skylaa discover her most meaningful and inspiring wish, and even rallied the Maui community to make her wish experience so incredible!” said Bogner. “We rely on extraordinary volunteers like Crystal and Shan to help us carry out this special mission of encouraging our keiki, and we are so grateful for all that they do!”

Bogner, who helped coordinate the day, said she left her job in the medical field about a decade ago on a mission to be a part of Make-A-Wish. “I just saw how my daughter’s wish impacted her and her ability to push through when she was really struggling. I just had to be a part of it,” Bogner said.

On average, Make-A-Wish Hawaiʻi grants 90 to 100 wishes annually for local keiki and upwards of 1,300 for kids that wish to come to Hawaiʻi, according to Bogner. Last year, however, it granted only 64 wishes due to COVID-19. “We’re on track for 45 statewide this year,” Bogner said.

Skylaa plans to reunite with her father and move to Colorado, where there is an art school nearby that she hopes to attend. Still, Skylaa’s mark will stay on Maui long after she leaves.

Skylaa gets a hug from volunteer Wish Granter Crystal Sakai. Photo by JD Pells.
JD Pells
JD is a multimedia journalist from Kula, HI. He is currently earning his degree in journalism at Texas Christian University.
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