When Jordan Straub, 13, returned home from an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris, courtesy of Make-A-Wish Montana, she came home with more than a leather Galliano purse. She had found role models who offered guidance as she prepares for a career in the fashion industry, and she and her family found themselves looking forward to her future, rather than focusing on her illness, for the first time in years.

Jordan, an avid soccer player for Helena Youth Soccer Association, was diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis when she was 9 years old. She said she experienced debilitating stomach pain that sometimes radiated to her back. She missed school, spending most of her time on the couch at home watching movies and flipping through fashion magazines. Jordan said her mind was fuzzy and her attention span was short, so there wasn’t much else she could do.

In 2011, surgeons removed her pancreas and transplanted islet cells to her liver, where the cells can continue to produce insulin. After surgery, Jordan had to count carbs and give herself insulin injections with meals. Her parents, Kathryn and Carl, considered an insulin pump but things continued to improve. This week, Jordan laughed as she confessed she can eat whatever she wants now, although she doesn’t, with just a small dose of long-acting insulin each day, thanks to the islet cells in her liver doing their job. She also returned to soccer as a striker 15 months after surgery.

Last December, Jordan, her parents and younger brother, Carsten, were selected for an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris by Make-A-Wish Montana at an emotional ceremony at Macy’s. Typically, Make-A-Wish doesn’t grant abroad travel wishes unless there is a “compelling” reason, Kathryn explained. Jordan’s grandmother had promised her a trip to Paris, but due to Jordan’s health the trip was canceled. Jordan’s grandmother passed away from complications due to breast cancer before the trip could be rescheduled. Jordan’s grandmother had been an employee at Macy’s, which made the gift very meaningful to the Straubs.

The family traveled to Paris in March and spent a week there. Jordan and her mother agree the trip was a turning point for the family. For the past few years, Jordan’s health had been the focal point of the family, but with her health improved, the lens was refocused on her dream for the future — to be a fashion designer.

If anything positive came out of Jordan’s illness, it is her love of fashion, born during hours of flipping through fashion magazines, Jordan said. In Paris, Jordan and her mother toured the Galliano house of fashion design, where they met designers and followed the process of creating a fashion line from inspiration to laying out patterns to sewing to runway preparation. And despite their better judgment, each admitted to falling in love with very expensive items they saw at Dior, Galliano and Chanel fashion exhibits and vintage shops, where Jordan touched items that before she had only seen in magazines.

The Make-A-Wish volunteer wish granter that coordinated many of the events for Jordan’s family in Paris was a shoe designer who offered Jordan encouragement and advice for pursuing a fashion career. Jordan said the volunteer came from humble beginnings and made her dream seem like a realistic possibility. While more islet cell transplants may be needed in her future, she’s making plans to study fashion in college and spend time in Paris.

The family also attended a soccer match between France and Georgia, had lunch at the Eiffel Tower and spent hours sightseeing and people-watching on the streets of Paris. Aside from a brief disappearance of 8-year-old Carsten at the metro station, the trip was perfect, and Make-A-Wish never made their requests feel like an inconvenience, Kathryn and Jordan agreed.

This year, Jordan will help promote the “Believe” campaign, which launched Nov. 8. She hopes to give other kids with life-threatening illnesses the same opportunity she had. For every letter to Santa submitted to Macy’s before Dec. 24, Macy’s will donate a dollar, up to $1 million, to Make-A-Wish. Kathryn pointed out that anyone — adults and kids — can write a letter to Santa, and help raise funds to grant wishes. Letters can be dropped off at Macy’s during regular store hours and holiday postcards are available at the store upon request.

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