Abigail Makanjuola is a self-proclaimed fashionista. And at only 4 years old, she’s already on a billboard.
For Abi, being featured on a big billboard was her greatest wish. On Dec. 1, her dream came true.
Abi was born with sickle cell disease, a red blood cell disorder that can lead to other serious medical complications such as infections, acute chest syndrome and strokes.
When her medical team referred Abi as a recipient to Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic in February, she didn’t have to think twice about what her wish would be, said her mother, Olaide Daramola.
“I want to be a model,” Abi announced. “I love to dress up. I’m a fashionista.”
The twins have been fascinated by fashion all their lives, Daramola said, and she has been chronicling their outfits on an Instagram page since they were born.
“They love to pose for pictures,” their mother said. “They like color, they like glitter. Anything that’s shimmery.”
Through a partnership with Macy’s, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic was able to grant Abi her wish to become a fashion model. Since 2003, the two organizations have together granted 16,200 wishes nationwide to children between the ages of 2 and 18 who suffer from a critical illness.
Abi was the latest recipient of the partnership, when she and her family were surprised with a trip from their home in Laurel, Md., to New York in September. The twins starred in a professional photo shoot — complete with a full styling team.
“They had such a good time,” Daramola said. “It was a great trip, and it was life-changing for them, Abigail in particular.”
Abi had been hospitalized in August, and during the New York trip the following month, “she was still in pain,” her mother said.
Despite her discomfort, though, “Abigail was on cloud 9,” Daramola said.
The twins were born premature, and Abi was diagnosed with the blood disorder at birth.
In her short life, Abi has endured extensive medical treatment — including regular blood transfusions, several types of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant from her twin sister last December.
Following the procedure, she spent 51 days at the Children’s National Hospital in D.C., plus three other eight-day hospital stays over the course of the year to combat complications.
The family is “very, very grateful,” that Vivi, who does not have sickle cell disease, was able to be her sister’s donor and that Abi didn’t have to go on a several-year-long waitlist, Daramola said. “I always tell people that God decided to bring Abi’s match in the womb with her.”
Beyond being her much-needed bone marrow match, Vivi is also Abi’s closest companion.
“They are best friends,” said Daramola, who started a nonprofit called Master’s Touch, through which she raises funds for other families coping with blood disorders and regularly organizes blood drives. “Valerie always attends to whatever her sister needs.”
Although the recovery process was rocky, Abi “is so strong,” Daramola said, explaining that her daughter would often turn to her and say, “Don’t cry, mama.”
Dec. 10 marks a year since the transplant, and it is also the twins’ birthday. Abi is “healthy and laughing and playing,” Daramola said. Her recovery came just in time to celebrate her dream billboard debut.
On Dec. 1, a limousine picked up Daramola and her two daughters at their home and took them to the billboard reveal on Rhode Island Avenue, in North Brentwood, Md., where a crowd of local news reporters awaited their arrival.
Abi and Vivi walked toward the billboard, hand-in-hand, as Abi pointed up and said, “That’s me!”
The billboard reveal was part of Macy’s Believe campaign with Make-A-Wish, which invites customers to send letters to Santa until Dec. 24. For every letter sent, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million.
Seeing Abi witness her wish come true was “one of the best moments,” said Kaitlyn Mattsson, a store manager at Macy’s at the Mall at Prince George’s. “We felt so lucky to be able to participate.”
Following the billboard reveal, Macy’s staff organized a red-carpet event at the store, attended by volunteers, family and friends.
“We did a full celebrity experience for her,” Mattsson said. “It was such a special morning. We just had such a great time partying with the girls.”
It was also a meaningful day for Make-A-Wish staff, as they watched the girls shine on the red carpet and even sign autographs for their fans.
“It brought smiles to all of our faces. There was just as much joy for us as for them.” said Lesli Creedon, president and chief executive of Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic.
The impact of what they did, Daramola said, was far bigger than a billboard.
“I believe what they do for children like my daughter helps you believe in the capacity of humans to care,” she said.
Abi, for her part, “was so happy” after the event, Daramola said, adding that she is expected to live a full, healthy life now that she has recovered from the transplant.
The girls’ 5th birthday is approaching, and “we have so much to celebrate,” Daramola said. “We are really blessed.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.