Hunter’s excellent adventure

A Webster City teen just returned from a very special trip, thanks to the folks at Make A Wish Foundation Iowa.

Hunter Moss, 16, and his family spent several days this month visiting Sesame Place, a theme park on the outskirts of Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

Back in May during the Special Olympics Torch Run ceremony at Webster City Middle School, representatives of Make a Wish surprised Hunter with news that his wish to meet the characters from Sesames Street had been granted.

Hunter has autism and also apert syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones (craniosynostosis). According to his mother, Kristin Moss, apert syndrome is a rare condition that affects only 1 in 160,000 children born in the U.S. each year.

“He’s had several surgeries over the years,” she said. “He’s doing well healthwise now. The first five years were pretty rocky for him.”

Hunter is non-verbal, but uses an iPad with picture messages to help communicate his needs and wants.

His first introduction to Sesame Street came when he was just a baby. He was born at Hamilton County Hospital and was immediately taken by air ambulance to Blank Children’s Hospital.

“We bought him a little Elmo stuffed doll that stayed with him there and he just clung to it,” she said. “Every surgery, every doctors appointment, every out-of-state medical trip we’ve made, he’s carried Elmo and a blanket with him.”

Elmo became his good friend. And through the years, Hunter has come to like many of the other Sesame Street characters as well.

Kristin Moss said she and Hunter, along with his two brothers, Easton, 3, and Cody, 15, and close family friend Jaime Roelfs, left from Des Moines June 9, flying into Minneapolis with a connecting flight to Philadelphia.

They kicked off their trip with a visit to the Philadelphia Zoo. Kristin Moss said the kids enjoyed seeing all of the animals and amazing graffiti-style artwork at the attraction.

Duck boat tours around Philadelphia offered a unique view of the city and its historical sites. The duck boats travel both in the water and on land during the tour. The family also had a closer look at the historical sites in the area with a carriage ride tour, Kristin Moss said.

“It’s a very beautiful area,” she said.

The last two days of the trip were spent at Sesame Place. One day they spent at the water park and meeting characters. The final day was in the theme park, riding rides and more character time.

“The first day, we had a private Hawaiian party with Bert and Ernie. Big Bird and Elmo also came,” she said. “We had a meal and time for photos. They also had a dance party with limbo and really got the kids involved.”

The group had front row seats to a musical performance featuring Elmo, Cookie Monster and many of the other characters. Best of all was the meet and greet with the characters before the show.

“The boys got to hang out with Elmo and Cookie for like an hour before the show,” Kristin Moss said. She returned home with several hundred photos of all the special moments on the trip. She said it’s not always easy to gauge reactions because her son is non-verbal, but Hunter’s joy at meeting his long-time best friend was obvious from the smiles in the pictures.

“I saw a different side of Hunter that I hadn’t seen in a long time,” Kristin Moss said. “He came out of his shell, was doing things independently that I hadn’t seen him do. At one point I heard him say ‘bye.'”

“He was signing and smiling the whole time,” she said. “When he met Elmo, he laughed until he cried.”

Sesame Street Place made sure Hunter would long remember his trip with a tote bag full of books, toys and other mementos to take home.

Kristin Moss said she was grateful to Make A Wish Foundation Iowa for providing the family with the trip. She said her sister Amanda was instrumental in getting the wish request to submitted.

“With everything Hunter’s come through from birth until now, this was wonderful. He had the time of his life,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough for making the trip possible. My heart is full.”