RICHMOND COUNTY, Ga. — A 7-year-old Augusta boy whose wish was to “blast off to Saturn in a red rocket ship” saw his dream come true with the help of virtual reality.
Zayden Wright made history on Monday as the first person to ever have their wish granted by Make-A-Wish Georgia using virtual reality.
Zayden was only 2 days old when he was diagnosed with a congenital heart disease that required nearly 50 surgeries, but that hasn’t stopped his outgoing spirit, energetic personality and infinite imagination.
Zayden underwent his first open-heart surgery at 2 weeks old and, in his short life, has had three more open-heart surgeries since then. His mother, Shonda Wright, said her son has always had a fascination with “the stars, the sky and the moon."
“Ever since he was able to talk, he would always say, ‘Look up to the sky and make a wish,’” Wright said.
When asked what he wanted most in the entire world, Zayden shared his wish to blast off into outer space and visit Saturn in a red rocket ship. This was the start of Zayden’s Mission.
Zayden described what his space expedition would be like with his mother and his Make-A-Wish Georgia wish coordinator, Hilary Sherman.
In vivid detail, Zayden describes how his rocket ship will be red, how he will see countless stars along the way and how he will encounter friendly aliens who greet him with the sound of “bee bo."
Initially, the wish granters from Make-A-Wish Georgia were in a panic when Zayden said he wanted to fly to Saturn.
“We went, 'Holy crap, we can’t send a 7-year-old boy to Saturn,'” recalled Amy Alvarez, the chapter’s vice president of marketing and communications. “Traditionally we’d look at this wish and send them to space camp but what’s really important about Zayden is he has sensory issues so that wouldn’t have worked.”
Make-A-Wish Georgia leaders instead partnered with TRICK 3D, an Atlanta-based animation studio, to bring Zayden’s exact vision of Saturn to life through virtual reality.
TRICK 3D used a voice recording of Zayden describing to his mother what he imagined Saturn to look like to build Zayden’s virtual reality planet.
Zayden and his family received a police escort from their hotel to the Air Force base, where Zayden used the virtual reality headset, which he called “astronaut goggles,” for the first time in a giant hangar.
Naturally, one cannot blast off to outer space, even virtually, without expert astronaut training
and guidance. So, Make-A-Wish Georgia also recruited a real-life astronaut, Leroy Chiao, to prepare
Zayden for his mission.
Chiao is known for making history in 2004 as the first NASA astronaut to vote in a presidential election from space.
Zayden first met Chiao via video in January when Zayden learned that his mission was coming. Chiao traveled from Texas to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Marietta, Georgia, to be there today to lead Zayden through his preflight briefing and present him with his astronaut suit.
Wright said the dream come true for Zayden was a “tearjerker” for her and her husband, Zach Wright, who know firsthand the kind of big dreamer their son is.
“There’s times where we have to kind of tell him, ‘OK Zayden, let’s come back to reality,’ because he can go so farfetched with his imagination,” she said. “This was awesome.”
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