OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A terminally ill 9-year-old is getting the opportunity of a lifetime this holiday season.
Olivia Francis said her lifelong dream was to be a part of The Nutcracker. With some help from the Oklahoma City Ballet, that wish is coming true this December.
Francis had an infectious smile at rehearsals on Wednesday evening as she lives out her childhood dream being a part of the holiday ballet.
“Fun, exciting, and a bit nervous,” Francis said. “I’m playing the role Marie, basically Clara’s sister.”
The Oklahoma City Ballet got her a vintage wheelchair that fit into the Victorian set to play her part.
Francis was diagnosed with a rare, inherited, degenerative disease that’s also a terminal illness called Friedreich’s ataxia.
According to John’s Hopkins, the disease damages the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and the cerebellum portion of the brain.
The symptoms of the disease worsen over time. There is also no treatment or cure.
“So, they slowly lose the ability to walk and basically just kind of breaks down the muscle functions in their body,” Olivia’s mom, Mary Francis, said.
Other symptoms include tiredness, a loss of sensation in the legs that spreads throughout portions of the body, loss of reflexes, slowed or slurred speech, and hearing and vision loss among others.
However, that wasn’t going to keep Olivia from going on the big stage.
After mentioning in a school assignment that her dream was to be a part of the ballet, her mom reached out to the Oklahoma City Ballet, and they jumped on board.
“The first thing we did was have her out to watch one of our previous ballets, meet everyone, take a backstage tour,” said Jo Lynne Jones, the executive director of the OKC Ballet. “It happened to be her birthday. And so, we revealed to her on her birthday that we were going to put her in The Nutcracker.”
Then it all came to life.
“This can be more than just a walk on role. We’re not just going to have her come in and sit on a sofa. We’re really going to give her a part,” Jones said. “It’s just been fabulous. So, she is really integrated into the scene.”
“What makes you more nervous?” KFOR asked.
“Making sure I do the right things,” Francis said.
Mary said it’s heartbreaking to know what her daughter is going through. But, she said it’s also heartwarming to be able to see her daughter enjoying these moments.
“What’s been the most fun part for you being a part of this?” KFOR asked.
“Probably just getting to know everyone,” Francis said.
You can see Olivia and the OKC Ballet perform The Nutcracker starting on Dec. 10.
They will also have shows Sunday as well as the following Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.