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Trip Down Under makes N. Forsyth grads wish come true
North Forsyth High School graduate and cancer survivor Sarah, center, traveled to Australia last year as part of the Make-a-Wish program. She went with her father, Joe, and boyfriend, Zach.

Sarah wished herself to the other side of the world.

Make-a-Wish granted the recent North Forsyth High School graduate’s request to travel to Australia last year, and she celebrated the trip last Wednesday night with the company whose donations made it possible.

Sarah, whose last name is kept confidential by Make-a-Wish policy, was diagnosed in December 2010 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system that compromises the body’s immune system.

A junior at the time, Sarah said she initially went to the doctor because her lymph node was swollen.

The diagnosis was “scary” to learn, but she said she continued through school with the support of those close to her.

After undergoing treatment, Sarah is currently cancer-free. She just finished her first semester at the University of Georgia, where she’s majoring in biology with hopes of becoming a pediatric oncologist.

She celebrated her honor-roll grades by taking her wish trip this December, traveling Down Under for 10 days with her father and boyfriend of nearly three years.

“They’re the people who have been there with me the most,” she said of sharing the experience with them.

Sarah, 18, loves the ocean, and said snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef may have been her favorite part of the trip.

She also enjoyed touring a rain forest, seeing the Sydney Opera House and visiting Kuranda, a village in Queensland.

Sarah said she picked Australia because she knew she wanted to take a trip and the island nation offers so much to do.

“It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” she said. “We personally would never have the funds now to be able to go. I plan on being able to when I’m older. That’s my favorite thing. I love to travel.”

Donations from UnitedHealthcare of Georgia and its employees made Sarah’s wish come true.

The employees met Sarah and heard stories from her trip during a party Wednesday night at an Alpharetta restaurant.

Rick Elliott, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Georgia, said he enjoys being able to fund a specific wish rather than make a blanket donation because he gets to meet the families and see the efforts at work.

“Seeing their positive attitudes is so inspiring,” he said.

Studies have shown that granting wishes can help the outlook for a person’s recovery, he said.

Elliott also serves as the vice chairman of the Make-a-Wish Georgia board of directors.

He said teens often select trips for their wishes, but this is the first time he’s seen a wish to visit Australia.

Make-A-Wish Georgia was founded in 1995, and has granted more than 5,000 wishes of local children, including 387 in 2012.

The state organization is a part of Make-A-Wish America, which grants the requests of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

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