JAMES CITY — Since birth, 10-year-old Ryan Cornett has made many trips to three different hospitals from Norfolk to Boston seeking treatment for a rare genetic disorder that left him sluggish as a baby.
But he showed no signs of slowing down Saturday as he dove into his brand new ball pit donated by Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia.
Once the large 14-foot ball pit was assembled and filled with 9,000 balls, all dumped in by hand, Ryan issued the call to action.
"Let's go in the ball pit," he proclaimed to friends and family before he plunged in head first.
His father, John Cornett, smiled as he watched his daughter, Holly, and kids from their neighborhood join Ryan in the small sea of colorful balls, ducking beneath the surface and popping up only to playfully pitch balls to each other.
"Chick-fil-A will be sending kids to our house," he joked.
All kidding aside, he knows what the new addition to their home is worth to his son.
Ryan's wish has been nearly two years in the making. He was born with DiGeorge syndrome, which caused a heart defect and resulted in learning disabilities. His father explained that the vessel leading from Ryan's heart to his lungs never fully formed, causing poor oxygenation. Multiple surgeries were required to correct the issue, and Ryan will need more as he grows into adulthood, Cornett noted.
"He was like a little old man," said Ryan's grandmother Pat Cornett. "Once his heart got fixed, he was like a normal toddler."
When Ryan was about 5 years old, doctors thought he'd need a heart and lung transplant, according to his father. But the worrisome pulmonary scarring disappeared, he said. The medical professionals called it healing, while Cornett and his wife thought of it as a miracle.
It was in occupational therapy where Ryan first encountered a ball pit, Cornett said. He surmised that the weight of the balls surrounding Ryan, who is also autistic, is a comfort.
The family had looked into buying one, but at $6,000 to $10,000 it was cost-prohibitive, according to Cornett. He said they even looked for local businesses with ball pits, but found them to be scarce.
Drew Kershaw, volunteer with Make-A-Wish Greater Virginia, said volunteers are with a child's wish from the first interview to the reveal, and help to fashion it to fit the child's dream. Ryan's ball pit was custom designed and provided by eSpecialNeeds.com, Kershaw noted.
"Not only is the ball pit a lot of fun," he said. "It's also therapeutic."
John Cornett admitted his family tossed around the idea of going to Disney World, but opted for the ball pit instead.
"I'm so excited for him to know he's going to have his own ball pit that he can play in and jump in any time," he said.
Pat Cornett agreed.
"He'll love having it," she said. "This will be here every day for years."
Robertson can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.