Fair helps girl with leukemia win experience of a lifetime

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Keith Sharon, The Orange County Register (Tribune News Service)
August 20, 2015

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif.—On a recent weekday the little girl had endured a spinal tap and a chemotherapy treatment in which drugs were injected through a tube in her chest. She swallowed new chemo pills that put her on her back for two days.

And then Chloe Rott summoned her strength and had the greatest Friday of her young life.

Orange County Fair CEO Kathy Kramer, with the help of a few hundred volunteers, opened the gates of the fair two hours before the normal crowds arrived that day so the 6-year-old from Fountain Valley, California, could continue the family tradition of getting a black-and-white picture taken in the photo booth.

Andy and Jillian Rott, Chloe's parents, had taken photos together every year to chronicle their first date, marriage, babies, adoption and goofy-faced August nights. Eleven straight years, the Fair had been a Rott family tradition. They feared they would be unable to make it to the fair this year because Chloe's immunities had been zapped by leukemia.

“This is the highlight of the fair for me,” Kramer said. “Their family grew with us. Their story was heart-breaking. We had to do something.”

In an incredibly emotional scene, volunteers lined up at the Fair entrance to welcome Chloe. Most of them were in tears as she passed, walking into the fair with her party of 21 friends and family. It was the first time she had been allowed contact with her friends since she was diagnosed in June. They went straight to the photo booth to get their picture taken.

Workers from security, maintenance, operations, inspections, concessions, facilities, electrical, marketing, farming and events showed up early to treat Chloe and her family to any ride she wanted. She was given a surprise party with clowns and a sample of every imaginable fair food—from deep fried Oreos and zucchini to kebobs to chocolate-covered strawberries.

Everywhere Chloe went, the staff cleaned every ride. They gave her stuffed animals, cotton candy and a live goldfish, which she promptly named “Goldie.”

“It's been a rough month,” said Steve Poe, Chloe's grandfather, trying to keep his emotions in check.

Recently the Rotts did get the good news that Chloe will be categorized as a “low risk” leukemia patient. She will continue chemotherapy treatments for two more years. But she can begin to come out of the house and interact with people. Andy carried Chloe when she got a bit tired walking through the fair.

“There's hope and there's a future now,” Steve Poe said.

When she heard the fair would be open just for her, Chloe told her mom she wanted Dippin' Dots.

So on the morning of the party, the owner of the fair's Dippin' Dots franchise, Karen Gary, opened her shop early to personally serve Chloe.

“What are we doing if we're not here for the kids who need us?” asked Gary, who had gotten a call the night before from the Dippin' Dots corporate office in Kentucky with the message that Kentucky is praying for Chloe.

Ben Pickett, the vice president of RCS—the fair's ride operators—assigned employees to follow Chloe and give her any experience she wanted. She rode on monster trucks, the carousel, the Ferris wheel, bumper cars and many others.

“Some things are not financial decisions,” Pickett said. “Some things are just the right decisions.”

Jillian Rott probably said “Thank you” a thousand times that morning to the people who opened the fair.

“This is something we'll remember forever,” she said.

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