A young girl from Edgewater got a big surprise late last fall — the chance to Skype with Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the actress who plays Hazel in the Dolphin Tale movies.
It was a pretty big deal for Emily Welch, 6, who has to wear a special body suit to help with low muscle tone and hyper mobile joints. “Dolphin Tale” — the story of a dolphin who lost its tail fin — was her favorite movie even before she found out the company that designed her suit made the prosthetic tail for the dolphin in the movie.
“Winter wears her tail just like I have to wear my suit,” Emily explained of the dolphin from the movie, who actually did lose the fin.
Emily started wearing her DMO Body Suit last May to help keep her hips from popping out of joint and to help strengthen her muscles, according to her mom, Anna Welch. Emily’s physical therapist from the Hanger Clinic, which makes the suits, told her about the connection to Winter.
“That was so exciting for Emily. She became even more addicted to the movie,” her mother said.
A coworker suggested Welch contact the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where Winter lives to tell them about Emily, so she wrote on the aquarium’s Facebook page.
“I wanted them to know how Winter touched my daughter,” she said. “She wears her suit [without complaining] because it makes her feel like Winter.”
Anna Welch said she expected to get a few “likes” on her post, but she was shocked when someone from the aquarium contacted her and arrange the Skype session with Zuehlsdorff and David Yates, chief executive officer of the aquarium.
“They have so much going on. I wouldn’t have figured they would do this much for one kid,” she said.
According to Becca Romzek, community relations coordinator for Clearwater Marine Aquarium, video chats with fans are something they do on a regular basis when actors come to visit the aquarium.
“These calls allow our special fans to connect with us no matter where they are or what they are going through,” she said. “Emily is a very unique young lady. Not only does she identify with Winter as she battles multiple medical conditions, but she also depends on help from Hanger, just like Winter. That connection stands out to us here at CMA.”
During the Skype session, Emily chatted excitedly with Zuehlsdorff and Yates about Winter and her suit. They told her how beautiful her smile is, and she had a grin from ear to ear the whole time, her mother said.
“They also talked about getting Emily down there. They said it’s not a matter of if, but when,” Welch said. “They said she would get the chance to touch Winter’s tail and feed her fish.”
After speaking with Emily, Yates said in an email he was impressed by her spirit.
“It’s always inspiring for us to see how Winter’s story helps children feel that being different is cool,” he said. “Emily gets that.”
Meanwhile the experience and the possibility of meeting Winter is giving Emily more incentive to wear her “Super Suit,” which isn’t the most comfortable.
“If she’s having a bad day and doesn’t want to wear the suit, I tell her, ‘When Winter doesn’t wear her tail, she can’t got out and meet people,’” Welch explained. “And that helps.”
By Betsy Stein