Red Deer Public School District

It’s a dream come true for one Red Deer Public student

Dreams are coming true for one young student at Mattie McCullough as she will soon set sail on a Disney cruise with her family thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation.

Grade 4 student at Mattie McCullough Elementary, Falan Hollman, was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome at a young age. According to, Rett syndrome is a rare non-inherited genetic postnatal neurological disorder that occurs almost exclusively in girls and leads to severe impairments, affecting nearly every aspect of the child’s life: their ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily.

“Because Falan has Rett Syndrome which is critical and life threatening, we were told about Make a Wish years ago and they said she would be a candidate because her lifespan is shortened drastically,” said Nicole Hollman, Falan’s mom, who is also a teacher with Red Deer Public Schools. “It was something that we knew we wanted to pursue, but we wanted her to be old enough to make the decision on her own and have a way to communicate that so that this could be something that she wanted, not something that we thought she might want.”

Coordinators from Make A Wish came and interviewed Falan to find out about her and to make sure the wish she was requesting was something that that she would be able to fully experience and enjoy.

“We had taken some time as a family to watch videos of wishes being granted for families. She became so focused on the Disney cruise and her body language changed when she saw the video of a Disney cruise,” said Nicole.

The exciting news was announced last month during a Character Education assembly with students in Grade 4 and 5 at Mattie McCullough.

“All the kids are so excited for Falan. They are high fiving her in the hallway and it’s just a really great thing to see,” said Lisa Spicer, Principal at Mattie McCullough Elementary School.

She said Falan’s personality and brightness add so much to the entire school.

“It’s hard to put into words how inclusion just spins so naturally when it’s all that our children know. They have had Falan in class with them and she has grown up in our school. She’s just a presence. Everyone knows her and she interacts with everyone and she has her own opinions about things,” said Spicer. “But the flip side is, it’s not like the other kids are unaware of her struggles. They know that she is in an awful lot of pain so much, she can’t do things the same way as they can, even though she does them in her own way.”

Falan’s entire family gets to attend including her younger brother Max, who is in Grade 1 at Mattie McCullough. “He is a very special little guy too and he deserves it equally as much because some of Falan’s challenges have affected him and he just takes it all with a smile,” said Spicer.

Nicole said she is grateful for the opportunity.

“This is big. Falan doesn’t get a lot of say in what happens in her world. When she’s sick, she’s sick. When her body won’t cooperate, it won’t cooperate. With Rett Syndrome she has the will to talk and move, but because her apraxia is so severe, she cannot. She tries really hard and her body often doesn’t let her do what she needs to do. She is trapped in there,” said Nicole. “For Make a Wish to take the time to give her something that she wants for her to have this dream and for it to come true and to be hers, for her to make something happen is the greatest gift. She choose it, she wanted it, it’s happening, it’s something she can control when she can’t control anything else. It gives her emotionally more than we may ever know - to know that she is being heard, that someone listened.”