Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve

Denver's Wish

For a 17-year-old, life should be about making memories and looking forward to the future. But for some, such as Denver Shuttlesworth, life is about staying alive.

Denver was diagnosed in 2014 with neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells of the sympathetic nervous system, according to the American Cancer Society.

But like every other teenager, Denver still has dreams and wishes. Recently, one of those wishes came true, when Denver was presented with a new Stinger 175 bass boat from the Alabama chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"The moment was surreal,” Denver said.  "It was shocking … and very heart touching to me.”

Tribal Council Member Sandy Hollinger, Denver’s mother, said before he was diagnosed, they initially went to the ER for back pain Denver was experiencing.

"When they did a CT scan, they saw a tumor resting on his spine,” Hollinger said. A week later, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Hollinger said her son spent a year and a half at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee but now is back home taking oral chemotherapy.

"He’s doing very well and is responding to the treatments, but we have a very long way to go still,” Hollinger said.

Thinking he was going to Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve for a photo shoot with his girlfriend, Denver was surprised with the gift of the boat and the big crowd that showed up to watch him receive it.

Hollinger said they picked Magnolia Branch as the venue for the surprise because of Denver’s avid love for fishing. The lakes at Magnolia Branch have plenty of fish, stocked with blue gills, catfish and shell cracker.

"Fishing, to me, is so relaxing, and it takes me to a different place where I don’t think of anything negative,” Denver said. "To be sitting in a boat, casting a line and just enjoying nature is perfect. Being out here at Magnolia is peaceful. I’m very honored and thankful to Make-A-Wish for giving me a boat of my own.”

Hollinger said Denver was the first recipient of Alabama’s Make-A-Wish in the area.

"We wanted to make this wish experience he and his family would always remember,” Alabama Make-A-Wish President and CEO Pam Jones said.