Huntington Beach 10-year-old, battling leukemia, sees Hawaiian resort wish granted

Dr. Burak Ozgur, left, speaks during a Zoom call with Olivia La Loggia, 10, of Huntington Beach, and her mother, Erika.
Dr. Burak Ozgur, left, speaks in front of a web camera during a Zoom call with Make-A-Wish kid Olivia La Loggia, 10, of Huntington Beach, and her mother, Erika for a “Hero” ceremony at Ozgur’s office in Irvine on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Ask Olivia La Loggia her favorite Disney character, and the 10-year-old has to think about it.

“I like all of them,” she said with a laugh. “That’s a hard question for me.”

A trip to Aulani, a Disney resort and spa in Hawaii, might seem like a dream come true for Olivia. In reality, it was a wish that was granted in January, pre-coronavirus pandemic.

Olivia, who lives in Huntington Beach, is a Make-A-Wish kid. She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in 2017, which started 28 months of treatment.

She’s doing better now, said her mother Erika La Loggia, who went on the week-long Hawaii trip with Olivia as well as her father Patrick and younger brother Enzo.

Olivia got to meet Disney characters like Minnie Mouse, Pluto and Stitch, and even became friends with a Make-A-Wish girl from Tennessee during the trip.

“Honestly, [the wish grant] was an opportunity to do the things we hadn’t been able to do for so long — get away and spend time together,” Erika said.

“She could do things that were once considered high-risk. Swimming wasn’t safe for her, and that’s one of her favorite things. Being able to see her be free from all of those constraints that were put upon her — and as a result, the entire family — it was just completely healing.”

The celebration continued Friday, as Olivia got to be part of a virtual Hero celebration. She was celebrated on a Zoom call with Dr. Burak Ozgur of Hoag Hospital, as well as representatives from Make-A-Wish Orange County & the Inland Empire and Carlsbad-based Spinal Elements.

Dr. Burak Ozgur, center, presents Make-A-Wish Foundation's Angela Wise, right, with a $10,000 check.
Dr. Burak Ozgur, center, presents Make-A-Wish Foundation’s Angela Wise, right, with a $10,000 check, as Marc Yap, left, Spinal Elements director of marketing, looks on during a ceremony at Ozgur’s office in Irvine on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Spinal Elements has a program called Hero Allograft, in which it takes proceeds from the sale of allograft tissue to its surgeon partners and pays it forward to two charities, including Make-A-Wish.

Ozgur, the chief of neurosurgery and spinal surgery at Hoag in Newport Beach and Irvine, helped facilitate a $10,000 donation back in May to support wishes for Orange County Make-A-Wish kids like Olivia.

“As part of performing spine surgeries, often times we need allograft material, which is basically a tissue donation,” Ozgur said.

“It’s really that gift of life. Tissues are donated in different ways and can be used to help patients in many different ways. One way is during spine surgery. So when Marc [Yap] and Spinal Elements presented the idea of the Hero allograft program, it was really an easy choice.

“It’s really great to be offered an opportunity to help give back, because we’re already performing the surgeries anyway. To be able to use a product where the proceeds go to different charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, it’s a great opportunity to give back.”

Angela Wise, Make-A-Wish Orange County & Inland Empire corporate engagement manager, said that this donation marks the first time that Spinal Elements has teamed up with this particular chapter of Make-A-Wish.

“We call it kind of like a ‘wish it forward,’ Wise said. “Yes, they’re adopting a wish that happened prior to that donation, but the idea is that they’re helping to fund wishes like Olivia’s … What I’m so grateful for at Make-A-Wish Orange County & Inland Empire is that we are able to be here today, and we’re still granting wishes.

“That’s a cool thing to say out loud, so I hope everybody appreciates that. These guys are doing something that’s changing lives. They’re already saving lives, and now they’re changing lives too.”

Olivia La Loggia of Huntington Beach, 10, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017.
(Courtesy of the La Loggia family)

Friday’s celebration, though virtual, had some special touches. Olivia had a special chocolate cake delivered to her Surf City home from Spinal Elements to eat during the Zoom call, and she definitely seemed to be enjoying it.

Erika said the wish grant was special for the whole family. The family is now enjoying life, as they recently got back from a two-week road trip to Texas.

“We spent over 70 nights at the hospital [during her treatment],” Erika said. “We were broken up a lot as a family. I would stay at the hospital with her, and my husband would stay at home with our son. So, it was kind of like reuniting us all in one room.

“She even mentioned that one night when she was in the hospital, ‘I just want to all spend the night together in the same room.’ It was pretty neat for that to come to fruition, and be healed and free. It was like putting a pretty bow on it all.”

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