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Taylor's trip a dream come true
Taylor gets to visit HER monkey
By Amy R. Mack | Daily Herald Staff

Taylor Radtke looks for the monkey that she had adopted in her name during her visit to the San Diego Zoo Tuesday.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Taylor Radtke gets close up with a camel during her visit to the San Diego Zoo Tuesday.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

Taylor Radtke gets a lift from dad, Jeff , to pet an okapi, a rain forest giraffe.


Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/17/2007 12:12 AM | Updated: 10/17/2007 6:07 AM

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No simple giggles would do on this day for this duo.

Belly laughs burst like bubbles from Taylor and Blake Radtke as they wrapped up their behind-the-scenes, nose-to-nose visit Tuesday with tigers, camels and a baby monkey named Mali.

No talk of brain tumors, surgery or doctor visits could mar their special visit to the San Diego Zoo. It was all about talking to and feeding the animals. And busting into belly laughs, one rolling atop the next.

Earlier Coverage
Taylor Radtke
Seven-year-old Taylor Radtke, diagnosed with a rare tumor that threatens her vision and mobility, needs life-saving surgery that few doctors are willing to perform.
How you can help
DONATE - Donations for Taylor Radtke are being accepted at First Midwest Bank's Johnsburg branch, 3805 N. Johnsburg Road, and McHenry branch, 1308 N. Route 31. Funds raised will be put toward research, travel expenses and medical costs.
SEND A CARD - If you'd like to write the Radtkes a card, please send them courtesy of Amy Mack, Daily Herald, 385 Airport Road, Suite A, Elgin, IL 60123.

"Her feet are not touching the ground," Laurie Radtke said as her little girl, who truly got to see a dream come true, rolled in laughter. "It was like watching her walk on clouds. I haven't seen that in years.

"This was the highlight. This is truly, absolutely, the highlight. It's like a shining star for her right now."

Taylor, 7, had asked the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the trip to the zoo because of her love for all animals -- and especially to see the baby monkey, Mali, and the mandrill adopted in Taylor's name by a close family friend.

Visits to those furry friends were, as you can imagine, atop Taylor's list of favorites at the zoo.

She'd also fed three camels -- a baby and two adults -- had been a foot away from a tiger and, for the first time in the history of the zoo, had the honor of hand-feeding a boar caught in the wild.

The little Johnsburg girl, facing intricate surgery for a clivus meningioma threatening her vision, mobility and life, didn't flinch at the close-up visits with animals from the wild.

"Our tour guide was amazed," Laurie said. "She said the kids are into it, but they usually freak out when they get up close. She's not frightened at all."

Taylor's kinship with animals is something her family talks about often, for they've seen it for many years. Zoo visitors likely also will talk about it after the baby monkey Mali reached out straight to Taylor.

"There's all of us in front of the glass, but she reached right out for Taylor," Laurie said.

Was that the best part? Sort of, Taylor said. "Mali ... she's cute and she had a pacifier." She also had a stuffed animal dog in her crib -- just like one Taylor had as a baby.

"... And my monkey," she said after a moment's thought.

Your monkey?

"Yes. MY monkey."

Competing for top honors was a special lunch at the zoo arranged by a family friend, topped by a sundae "taller than her head," Laurie said. "She looked at me and said 'Mommy, my tummy hurts ... but, man, was it worth it.' "

Just four days earlier, Taylor and her little brother, Blake, 5, donned surgical masks and spent the morning playing "operation" on "injured" stuffed animals in their Johnsburg home.

Two days into Taylor's Make-A-Wish trip, they had mostly transformed from practicing surgeons into future zookeepers making to-do-at-the-zoo lists.

By this fourth day, there was no thought of medical play, only belly laughs.

Come 2 p.m. Thursday, however, it's back to the grim reality of dealing with a medical crisis when they meet with Dr. Robert Spetzler in Phoenix.

They now know that after spending hours consulting with his team on the best way to handle Taylor's case, the specialist has called in another surgeon to assist with next week's expected surgery.

The Radtkes are anxious to know more details about the how, but for now, they simply are grateful the Barrow Neurological Institute has offered them hope when so many surgeons had not.

An amazing circle of support for the family has continued to grow. Their rental car and lodging in Phoenix for the next couple of weeks are covered.

"It means so much and is such a help," Laurie said, again thanking their donors.

She had particular praise for the folks with Make-A-Wish and the zoo, who pulled together Taylor's dream trip literally in hours. Their efforts left both parents and children beaming and at least two of them in full-scale belly laugh.

"Oh my goodness. What a way to end it," Laurie said.

What a way indeed.