CLEARWATER, FL (WIVB)- A big dream came true for a Hamburg boy this week. We first met 7-year-old Braedon Monthony back in September, when he was trying to raise money to meet someone special.
That special someone is actually a dolphin. Winter the dolphin from the movie “Dolphin Tale.”
She lives at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and just like Braedon, she had to overcome a very big obstacle at a young age.
Tuesday, Braedon finally got a chance to meet her face-to-face.
“I was like watching the movie and in my head I was like, she’s just like me!” Braedon told News 4.
Winter got caught in a crab trap when she was young; she had to have her tail amputated, and almost died in the process.
“The tail is a pretty big deal,” the 7-year-old explained.
But thanks to the trainers at CMA, a state-of-the-art prosthetic tail got her flipping around again.
Braedon knows the feeling.
“We both wear prosthetics and we both lost things we need to use to move.”
As an infant, a rare infection almost took Braedon’s life.
To save him, doctors had to amputate his legs.
His mom, Elaine, remembers the day she had to make the hardest decision of her life.
“Every parent want their child to be healthy,” she said.
“…To see him in a hospital room, bandaged up, and knowing that when they took him away he would come back without the part of him…” she explained.
But just like Winter, Braedon is a fighter; he rides bikes, swims, and moves pretty fast when he wants to.
The CEO of the aquarium, David Yates, spent some time with Braedon and his family while they were in Florida.
He told News 4 the 7-year-old’s story, and attitude, are all too familiar.
“That really is Winter’s story. I’ve had a tough time, but I’m going to be okay. We have a motto around here that says “if Winter can, I can, and that’s him,” Yates said.
Once Braedon learned Winter’s story, he was determined to meet her.
It started with a lemonade stand back in the fall. He raised two hundred dollars! It wasn’t long before neighbors took notice and pretty soon, Braedon landed on News 4.
“I was on the news and that helped me raise way more money,” he said.
Almost twice his goal in fact; the family’s Go Fund Me page received tons of support after News 4 did a story on Braedon’s wish.
“To know that other people wanted to help us get here, it’s really important, really important to share it with them,” Elaine said.
During Braedon’s special encounter with Winter, she had a hard time holding back tears.
“It’s very amazing, just to watch,” she said.
Seeing her son embrace his prosthetics, was something she feels Winter has helped with.
“Evan as a child, like, it took a long time to get him used to them. And to get him to the point where he accepted them as an extension of his own body, and watching that transformation, and then watching that transformation with Winter, it’s heartwarming. And it is, it’s inspiring.”
“It was like really awesome. I wanted to jump right in the water with her,” Braedon said.
He also got a chance to meet Hope, Winter’s friend, who was rescued too.
And he admitted, she wasn’t exactly what he thought she’d be.
“She was not as slimy as a sting ray, but she was slimy.”
Yates told News 4 seeing the connection Winter makes with young people has been overwhelming.
“Winter’s story has become a generational-inspiring story. All around the world, we have families from every country who travel here, or go online to watch us, because Winter inspired them,” he said.
Not only did Braedon get to slash around with his flippered friends, he got some future job training.
“My dream is to work at a place where I can help animals, where I can work with dolphins,” the 7-year-old said.
Yates says he thinks he might know just the place.
CMA also operates as an animal hospital. Its goal is to rescue, rehabilitation and release marine animals back into the wild.
Due to Winter’s condition, she couldn’t survive on her own, which is why she’s a permanent resident at the aquarium.