CINCINNATI, OH — An Ohio woman dying of end-stage liver disease will get an experience she has wanted for a couple of years. She’ll travel to the Cincinnati Zoo on July 29 for a private meeting with Fiona, the hippopotamus the world fell in love with after she defied the odds and survived her premature birth and other complications.
Cheri, whose last name isn’t given on a GoFundMe page to raise money for the visit and other expenses, was given three months to live when she was diagnosed. The 36-year-old wife and mother of two wanted a liver transplant, but her doctor told her to make arrangements for hospice care instead.
Her sister, Sandi Scott, of Dayton, said Cheri “absolutely loves Fiona,” and enough money has now been raised to make her dream come true.
So far, $1,600 has been raised to cover the expenses of the meeting with Fiona. Money not used for the tour will offset medical and funeral expenses to “help her husband, their 14-year old-daughter, and 8-year-old son give her the ceremony she deserves,” Scott wrote in the GoFundMe post.
Cheri doesn’t have life insurance, the post noted. The campaign is still open.
Fiona, if you’re unfamiliar, was raised by humans after she was born six months prematurely in January 2017 at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. She weighed just 29 pounds, about half the previous record for the lowest birth weight for a member of her species. Hippos usually weigh between 55 and 120 pounds at birth.
After such a rough start, things got a lot rougher in the month following her birth. Fiona refused to nurse, and human caretakers stepped in. When she became dehydrated, sick and lethargic, the zoo’s veterinary team inserted multiple IVs. But her tiny veins wouldn’t sustain them.
Fortunately, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center is located nearby, and its Vascular Access Team is dedicated to working with difficult veins. After the doctors for humans intervened, Fiona not only survived, but went on to become one of the world’s most beloved hippopotami with a celebrity profile that rivals many humans’.
Cheri’s family wasn’t able to keep the secret about the upcoming visit with her hippopotamus heartthrob Fiona. The GoFundMe campaign has been widely shared on Facebook.
“She cried when she found out what we were planning,” Scott said of her sister in a Facebook message exchange with CityBeat in Cincinnati. “It’s hard to hide things on Facebook when everyone she knew was posting it. She loves Fiona so much that she has a Fiona tattoo on her leg!”
The visit with Fiona was originally scheduled for Aug. 8, but given Cheri’s fragile condition, the zoo moved it up to July 29.
“This is going to be a very special day,” Scott told CityBeat. “And we are all looking forward to seeing her so happy.”
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