Teen with blood disorder has wish come true at Zoo Miami

Matthew Valiante travels with family to Miami from New Jersey to see big cats


MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A teen with a blood disorder had his dream come true Friday as he got to meet big cats and other animals at Zoo Miami.

Matthew Valiante's family said he has always had a fascination with animals. 

"It's big cats. He loves them, but really it's all animals," the teen's mother, Deana Valiante, said. 

Matthew traveled to South Florida from New Jersey with his parents and siblings to get an up-close view of Zoo Miami's finest animals, including watching the cheetah and feeding the giraffe.

The 13-year-old has been fighting Schwachman-Diamond syndrome -- a bone marrow and pancreas dysfunction he will live with for the rest of his life.

"If we get any kind of fever, we have to immediately go to the ER. He can't fight infection the way we can, so we have to be careful," Deana Valiante said. 

For the day, his family put their worries aside. 

"When Make-A-Wish said we will grant your wish, it was like, who expected?" Matthew's father, Jeff Valiante, said. 

"This is only constrained by the child's imagination. Whatever they can dream best to make it come true," Stu Opperman, of Make-A-Wish, said. 

Zoo Miami's Ron Magill was also on hand to help Matthew's dream come true. 

"To see him feeding the giraffe and seeing the cheetah -- if for one moment we can make him forget everything else and see that smile, that's priceless," Magill said.