When 11-year-old Stefan Lehman starts talking about waterparks, his imagination runs wild, with fantasies of hopping out of a plane and zipping down an extra-long waterslide into a pool far below.
So it’s no surprise that when the Make-A-Wish Foundation asked Stefan to make a wish, he asked to go to the world’s biggest waterslide.
Consider the wish granted, with Lehman and his family leaving St. Helena on Wednesday, Aug. 1 for Atlantis Paradise Island in Nassau, Bahamas, famous among thrill-seekers for its 60-foot “Leap of Faith” that takes riders from the top of a faux Mayan temple into a shark-infested lagoon – safely inside a transparent plastic tube, of course.
Stefan’s severe epilepsy made him eligible to make a wish. Under the supervision of doctors at Kaiser, he just completed the first of two years on a strict ketogenic diet that’s drastically reduced the number of potentially deadly seizures he experiences.
When his mother Laura Lehman told him to start thinking about making a wish, his first thought was to save the financially struggling St. Helena Catholic School that he attended, and where his mom taught. The school closed in June.
Instead Lehman told him to try to think of an unforgettable one-time experience. Meeting Steph Curry and the Warriors was one idea. But the waterslide won.
The Lehmans have already visited notable waterparks in Ohio and Georgia, but the Bahamas trip should be the most thrilling one yet for Stefan, his parents Laura and Doug, and his brothers Jake, 16, and Cal, 14.
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Atlantis Paradise Island features 11 pools — one for each year he’s been alive, Stefan noted – and at least a half-dozen major waterslides, including the intimidating Leap of Faith. When asked about the park last week, Stefan’s mind seemed to click into overdrive.
“What if you got into a plane and there was a waterslide out the door of the plane that went all the way down?” he pondered. “What if there was a diving board and you could jump into a pool from that high?”
Based on his enthusiasm, “He may make his own waterpark someday,” Laura Lehman said.
Make-A-Wish representatives gave Stefan the good news on July 22, over dinner at Gott’s. In contrast to most diets, burgers are a cornerstone of the ketogenic diet, which emphasizes Mediterranean-style high fats, low carbs, low glucose, and moderate protein. The idea is to replace glucose with ketones, providing an alternate fuel source for brains that have trouble metabolizing glucose.
The diet has proven successful for many epileptic kids like Stefan who haven’t responded to traditional drug regimens, or whose families are wary of the drugs’ side effects.
As Stefan started on the diet and was weaned off drugs, his mom saw him become happier, more alert, and less prone to seizures, including the severe grand mal seizures that can cause Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). Before the diet, he’d been experiencing between five and 20 seizures per day.
As the diet took effect, Stefan also started to shed the extra weight he’d suddenly gained during first grade, shortly before he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He also has fewer of the short-term memory problems that are associated with epilepsy.
Stefan’s mom has become so familiar with the diet that Stefan jokes that she could start “her own keto restaurant.” She gives credit to the Kaiser doctors who’ve guided his treatment and the local stores Nature’s Select and Sunshine Foods, which have helped steer them toward the right ingredients and supplements.