DULUTH — Superior Middle School eighth-grader Maddie Galovich smiled wide for photos Sunday in her hot pink wheelchair, holding a new tote bag displaying the words "New York."
New York is where she is headed this week thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, where she will meet actress Leah Remini.
"When I was little and having surgeries, my dad would put on her shows and they would always make me laugh and get my mind off all the bad things going on," she said from her send-off party at Bluestone Flats in Duluth. "And I kept on watching her."
When Galovich was 18 months old she was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a neuromuscular disease that affects muscle movement. The disease put her in a powered wheelchair at that young age, and led to multiple surgeries. But despite everything the 13-year-old has faced, "she takes it all on really well, and is well-adjusted and positive," said her father, Bob Galovich.
"She's always been very independent, outgoing and social," he said. "To be honest, I feel like she's taught me a lot about life, about taking things for granted and appreciating the small things."
Spinal muscular atrophy is a progressive disease, and it's expected to get worse, he said. It can be serious for Maddie to come down with a common cold.
"When she was first diagnosed, it was gloom and doom," he said. "Every time you looked on the internet, you could find something negative."
Years ago her parents chose to focus on positivity, so Maddie would, too, he said, and she has.
Maddie's mother, Candace Jackson, said Maddie excels at putting others first, without complaining or feeling sorry for herself.
"As time goes by, you forget she has disabilities," she said. "It's just Maddie."
Maddie has had to modify and do some things differently in her life, and it can be "draining," Bob Galovich said, noting a recent breakthrough in spinal muscular atrophy treatment will lead her to another surgery.
Despite the stresses she faces, "she lives life to the fullest," he said.
Maddie, who enjoys swimming and hanging out with her friends, seems to agree. Her outlook on life, she said, is to "have fun."