Jackson Corbeau walked into Mystic Aquarium Friday filled with wonder. As he was checking out the beluga whales, it was quickly apparent that he was also filled with excitement, and questions.
He found a staff member and asked a pointed question: how much do the whales eat?
“Could you imagine eating 50 to 90 pounds of fish a day?” replied the worker. “That’s a lot of food.”
The Mainer’s trip to Connecticut had all the normal animation of a 5-year-old, but this visit was special.
Decked out in a Mystic Aquarium uniform just his size, the Make-A-Wish child was here to become a penguin trainer.
“We were just ecstatic that he would be able to have such a unique experience,” said Jackson’s mom Beth Corbeau. “It’s something that’s so in tune with his interests.”
Make-A-Wish Maine partnered with Make-a-Wish Connecticut to make the dream a reality.
“It was my first time dealing with mystic to do a wish and it was really awesome, they worked very well with us.” Kailani Gadlin of Make-a-Wish CT.
The penguin pavilion was the perfect place to make Jackson’s dreams come true. On an aquarium trip to Boston in 2018, the then 2-year-old picked out a stuffed penguin. Shortly after that he was diagnosed with leukemia, and that stuffed penguin stuck with him throughout his entire treatment.
“And so, it’s been with him ever since. And he became known at the hospital and at clinic by his pink penguin,” Beth said.
Beth says Jackson is resilient and has done really well during his two-plus years fighting cancer. As he zipped around the aquarium, she said this is the perfect way to wrap up his treatments.
“We’re 10 days away so, it’s a perfect timing for us to celebrate the upcoming end of treatment and everything that he’s been through,” Beth said.
Stories from NBCLX
LX, or Local X stands, for the exponential possibilities of storytelling in our communities.
The stuffed penguin was with him as he got ready to meet a real one on Friday. In a small room, he had one-on-one time with a penguin and an aquarium trainer. He learned all about one named “green-red” And gave it a checkup from head to toe.
“Go ahead and touch all over, make sure those joints are nice and healthy,” said the trainer as she pointed out what to watch for, including the lungs.
“Did you hear that big breath?” she asked as he listened through a stethoscope.
“He’s got one more thing he wants to show off for you, and that’s his big, beautiful penguin feet.”
Those feet left a lasting impression on Jackson. The penguin waddled across a canvas with non-toxic paint, creating a piece of art. That, along with the memories, will last a lifetime.