Two years ago, then-4-year-old Daniel Lamkin visited the Keys with his mom and dad from Austin, Texas, and they stopped by Islamorada’s Theater of the Sea. The highlight of the trip, and, if you ask Daniel, the highlight of his life so far, was Wilbur the sea lion and the picture he painted for the little boy.
It hangs on Daniel’s bedroom wall to this day.
“Daniel has talked about Wilbur ever since,” his mother Cathy Lamkin said Friday when the family returned to Theater of the Sea at mile marker 84.7.
But a lot has happened since the Lamkin’s last visit. Most notably, Daniel was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that attacks a person’s lymphatic system.
Daniel became ill and had severe abdominal pain on Christmas Eve, 2016. By Dec. 28 of that year, he was diagnosed with cancer, his dad, Ethan, said.
After surgery to remove the tumor, Daniel endured chemotherapy until April 2017. Thankfully, he’s in remission, but he still has to go to regular check-ups for the next three months, his grandmother Susan Fields said.
During chemo, his mother promised him he’d be able to come back to Islamorada and see Wilbur again when it was all over.
“After him going through so much, the sunlight at the end of the tunnel was Wilbur,” Cathy said.
Make-A-Wish South Florida set up the family’s visit with Theater of the Sea, and the sea lion trainers brought out three mammals Friday to play with Daniel — Bella, Cole and of course, Wilbur, who painted another picture for Daniel.
“Who is your favorite sea lion in the whole world,” trainer Andi Kimbrel asked Daniel.
“Wilbur,” Daniel exclaimed.
“Well, guess what? Wilbur is coming out to paint for you!”
And, paint he did, holding a brush in his mouth, the 440-pound Wilbur colored a small canvass purple, orange, red and green. Daniel, his parents and grandparents also saw Theater of the Sea’s parrot and dolphin shows and took a ride on the park’s bottomless boat.
Daniel’s enthusiasm was appreciated by Theater of the Sea staff watching him have fun.
“To see him come here to the sea lions from the parrot stadium just jumping up and down with a smile on his face, that’s why we do it,” said Jeremy Hauwelaert, marketing and sales director. “It makes people happy.”
Daniel then played with Cole, who is only 2 years old, and he jumped around with Bella before calling it a day.
“It’s treatment for him and treatment for us to see him happy.” Cathy said.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204