Balloon ride allows 10-year-old joy in her fight against Sickle-Cell disease

ST. LOUIS - The Great Forest Park Balloon Race launched Saturday afternoon with a Sickle-Cell warrior and her father on their first flight during Sickle-Cell Awareness Month.

Add this to the family photo album. 10-year-old Eyonna Hobkins and her father Mario Haynes took their first trip to the race. But, they were booked for a flight above the park’s Grand Basin.

“Sometimes she has good days. Some days she has bad days,” Haynes said. “But mostly good days that’s a good thing.”

This was a good day in Eyonna’s fight against the disease which can cause extreme pain, chronic infections and lots of trips to the hospital. Eyonna said she also has to face her fear of talking to people she does not know.

“Sometimes I have to talk to people to make me feel better because sometimes I have to tell them my pain. And sometimes, they give me a scale from 1 to 10. And, I just don’t really know.”

Pilot Ken Walter did not just want to show the family a good time. He had a lesson for Eyonna.

“You gain a whole new perspective on everything,” he said. “We have the four walls of this basket to keep her safe. But, it’s taking her into places that again she may never have an opportunity to do otherwise.”

Eyonna says she was excited when she learned about the ride. But, did she ever get nervous?

“Now that I see it, yes.”

Eyonna goes to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, which scored her a ride on the Purina balloon.

“This is also a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Purina’s Kim Beardslee. “So, I’m sure she is going to go back to school and brag to all of her friends.”

The nerves seemed to build as the flames inflated the balloon. But, you could see pure joy take over as the daddy and daughter took off.