Lighting up for Hannah

Hannah (right) with sister Willow.

By Melissa Grant

Eight-year-old Hannah Fennell just loves lights.

The Lyndhurst girl adores her sensory room at school and has dreams of attending Vivid Sydney, an iconic festival with immersive light installations.

So when Make-A-Wish Australia brought a little bit of Vivid to Hannah’s front yard on March 12, the young girl’s face instantly lit up.

“Hannah didn’t know what was happening and just to see her face so full of excitement and joy was priceless,” dad Richard said.

A bright and colourful light display was installed at the house, ready for Hannah to switch-on at the end of a countdown.

Fire optic sticks were placed around the yard for Hannah to weave in and out of. Lights flashed and there were glow sticks everywhere for the very personal Vivid-inspired show.

The event brought so much joy to Hannah, who has already overcome so much in her life.

She was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has had four open heart surgeries.

“Basically the left side of her heart didn’t form properly, so she spent her first five months in hospital, three open heart surgeries during that time and another one a few years ago,” mum Emma explained.

At age 5, Hannah was diagnosed with the rare Ayme-Gripp syndrome, which means she can’t hear or speak, is vision-impaired and has an intellectual disability.

“It’s been very full-on. The first couple of years were quite difficult, quite rough. It’s all settled down a lot and Hannah is doing much better now health-wise,” Emma said.

Make-A-Wish had been working hard to grant Hannah’s wish of attending the Vivid Festival.

Unfortunately, that wish was postponed last year as the event was cancelled due to Covid-19.

At the beginning of the year, the future of Vivid 2021 was still uncertain with constant border closures.

So Make-A-Wish joined forces with their partner Blooms the Chemist as well as audio visual equipment supplier Resolution X to bring a bit of Vivid to Hannah.

When Andrew Leslie, owner at Blooms The Chemist Casey Central, heard Hannah’s story, he was desperate to support her wish.

“We’re already strong advocates and supporters of Make-A-Wish, conducting multiple fundraisers a year, so when we heard about Hannah and her story, we jumped at the opportunity to help make her wish come true,” he said.

Blooms The Chemist is a huge supporter of Make-Wish, having raised $1 million for the foundation through community fundraising.

Their network of over 100 pharmacies were invited to ‘light-up’ for Hannah in any way they could.

The Casey Central pharmacy sent the Fennells a hamper. Blooms the Chemist also filmed staff wrapped up in fairy lights delivering messages to Hannah, which played on a TV screen during the light show.

Hannah’s sister Willow also played a big role having put together the music playlist for the night.

Head of Wishes at Make-A-Wish Keira Blake said Hannah enjoyed every second of her light show.

“We did a countdown and all the lights came on with the music,” she said.

“It was just magical. It was such a fun party environment and so immersive for Hannah.”

Hannah and her sister also got to play with controls that changed the colour and positions of the lights.

The light show took a while to pull off. It was initially scheduled for February, but had to be postponed due to a mini-lockdown.

However, Keira said the build-up of the wish was a huge part of the fun.

“One of the things about wishes is it’s not just the day of the wish, it’s the anticipation of the wish, the building up of the wish,” she said.

“It’s all the time you are thinking about the wish and distracting yourself from illness or treatment.

“Initially, it couldn’t happen on the day we wanted so we gave her a wish pack – glow sticks, light up toys. The point of it was that she could remember her wish would happen.”

Keira said Make-A-Wish was still hopeful of getting Hannah to Sydney for the Vivid Festival.

However the threat of border closures and hotel quarantine have made it difficult for the time being.

“We would love to get Hannah to vivid when it’s safe to do so,” Keira said.

Richard and Emma said the light show was a night that Hannah – and the entire family – would never forget.

“We kept it all a surprise from her until the last moment, so she didn’t even know it was going to happen, and she absolutely loved every moment,” Emma said.

“I think it’s also about the time we can spend together as a family doing something that we know she likes, and also her sister will like as well. It’s an opportunity for us as a family to really make the most of the time we have together.”

Make-A-Wish has delivered more than 10,000 unforgettable wishes to children around the country since 1985.

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