Jeff Pack
Staff Writer

During a Zoom call with her family last week, 5-year-old Scarlett Gibson of Temecula received the surprise of a lifetime when she awarded an all-expense-paid trip to Orlando, Florida to visit all of her favorite amusement parks from Baking Memories 4 Kids.

The New York organization, which partnered with Encinitas’ Share the Dough and Manna Development Group (Panera Bread) utilizes funds raised through cookie sales and donation programs like Change for Children at Panera to provide children with life-threatening illnesses or experiences with trips to make memories for a lifetime.

The Gibson family was nominated to be a beneficiary of the gift by Rady’s Children’s Hospital. 

Roughly 29 weeks into Katie Gibson’s pregnancy with Scarlett, she developed severe preeclampsia symptoms. The complication caused her blood pressure to increase to dangerous levels and could cut the oxygen off to the fetus, and then she went into liver failure and kidney failure.

Scarlett then had to be delivered by cesarean section at Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta and Scarlett was quickly transferred to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego for treatment in the newborn intensive care unit.

The newborn baby girl spent two months in the NICU in San Diego while her mom recovered at Rancho springs. Scarlett was then transferred to Rancho Springs into another NICU for another two months. 

Katie said Scarlett had heart issues, including two holes in her heart, feeding and eye issues, a hernia, and other setbacks during her stay. 

Scarlett was discharged to go home after 81 days in the hospital weighing only 4 lbs. At the age of 2, Scarlett contracted severe bacterial pneumonia and was again taken to Rady’s by LifeFlight.

Scarlett Gibson was born prematurely by cesarean section and spent four months in newborn intensive care units while she struggled to survive, weighing just more than 2 lbs. Since then, she has endured bouts with pneumonia and heart issues, living while immunocompromised through all of her 5 1/2 years. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Since then, Scarlett has lived with a compromised immune system but has blossomed into a feisty, fun-loving 5-1/2-year-old who loves Disney. 

“She is our feisty little miracle and we couldn’t love her anymore,” Katie said. “Scarlett has been through so much in her short number of years and it is so special to see how strong and what a fighter she is since the day she was born. She deserves this special trip.”

Shane, Scarlett’s father, is an employee of ReederMedia Inc., publisher of Valley News and Village News. 

“I’m calling you from New York (and) Rachel (Flanagan) is in California and we have a really great surprise to share with you,” Frank Squeo said on the Zoom call when Scarlett was invited to the chat. “Are you ready for a really great Christmas present and surprise that mommy and daddy and have been keeping a really good secret?”

Squeo explained that Panera Bread customers had donated money with the Change for Children program.

“Rachel has all of the Paneras asking for change when people come and they buy food and they say can you give us 5 and 10 cents and then we put all that money in a piggy bank,” he told Scarlett. 

He said they had to find some really special children to use that money with a gift.  

“And we found you,” Squeo said. “Mom and dad told me how hard it was when you were little baby and everybody was praying for you and you’re a miracle, a miracle, and you’re so beautiful right now.”

He then told Scarlett that the whole family was going to go to Orlando to DisneyWorld, SeaWorld, Legoland, and others as the kindergartner smiled really big in silence. 

“We’re going to go on a plane, go to Florida and go to Disney World to see Mickey (Mouse),” Shane told her. 

“Are you excited?” Squeo asked. 

“Yeah, thank you!” Scarlett said as she bounced up and down on the family’s couch.

Katie, Scarlett, and Shane Gibson were awarded a trip to visit all of the amusement parks in Orlando, Florida by Baking Memories 4 Kids and Panera Bread’s Share the Dough last week. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

“You are so sweet, Scarlett, we are so blessed to be able to surprise you with this,” Flanagan said. “I can’t wait till you get to go on your trip, it’s going to be so much fun.” 

The week-long trip to Disney World all paid for travel and a stay at a special resort called Give Kids the World Village next to the park. It was unclear given the COVID-19 pandemic when the family might have the opportunity to take the trip. 

“Baking Memories 4 Kids told us that this trip will never expire until we set our dates so we will obviously be watching the many developments of the pandemic before we make our decision on when to go,” Shane said. “I think the soundest choice would be when it is safe and when everything is open again so we will get the most optimum amount of fun and memory-making at the resorts Orlando.”

Reflecting back to the surprise, Scarlett’s parents said they think she was shocked but the happy reality has set in. 

“Scarlett was very surprised,” Katie said. “We have kept this a secret for so many months she had no idea. Scarlett loves Disney so much and is so incredibly excited.”

“I think she was shocked,” Shane said. “Now that it’s been a little while since the surprise, the excitement has settled in and she’s talking a lot about this trip.

“I think for her, like most kids, this trip will be a dream come true. We are just so incredibly thankful to everyone involved in making this happen for her and our family. Nonprofit organizations like Baking Memories 4 Kids, Panera Bread’s Share the Dough, and all of the donors really do make a world of difference for families. The children deserve it. We are truly humbled to even be considered for this and we will be forever grateful for this unforgettable opportunity.”

For more information on Baking Memories 4 Kids, visit www.bakingmemories4kids.com. To learn more about Panera Bread’s Share the Dough, visit www.mannadevelopment.com.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com