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WINTER GOES TO VERMONT

Winter is used to performing in front of a camera. But the splashing, the counting to five and the barrel rolls were even more special Friday afternoon.

With a small, hand-held videocamera capturing her every move, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's popular dolphin with the artificial tail put on a show for 12-year-old Ross Perri, who was watching from about 1,400 miles away in Vermont.

Ross, who lives near Burlington, Vt., is fighting leukemia. About five years ago, he came to Orlando and had an opportunity to feed dolphins. He fell in love with the sea mammals.

With a failing immune system, traveling is unthinkable. So with the use of the videocamera, a laptop computer, a cell phone, and the Yahoo Messenger computer program, Winter was brought to Vermont.

"It had to be a virtual experience because there are no dolphins in Vermont," said Jason Liquori, Ross' cousin who lives north of Orlando in Apopka and supplied the camera. "He sounded the most excited I've heard him in a long time."

Liquori, who was accompanied to the aquarium by his wife, Nancy, said Winter was the perfect dolphin for the situation.

"Here's a dolphin without a tail," Liquori said. "To be able to overcome that is really inspirational and the family really needs that."

As a 2-month-old dolphin, Winter lost her tail after becoming entangled in a crab trap. Winter was rescued off the coast of Cape Canaveral and brought to the aquarium, where she learned to swim again after being fitted with an artificial tail. Now she is a month shy of 4 years old and blowing dolphin kisses into cameras.

Aquarium officials were contacted Thursday about setting up the video display for Ross. By Friday, it was lights, camera, action.

"We dropped everything to make this happen for this little boy," said Jeni Hatter, the aquarium's director of media relations. "Winter's story is an inspiration to people of all ages, all over the world. He couldn't come see her in person. We are happy to bring Winter to him."

Ross also was sent a care package from the aquarium that included several T-shirts, a small stuffed tail-less dolphin, a book about Winter that will be released next month and a picture that Winter painted Friday with Ross's favorite colors of orange and gold.

Ross was 10 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He's received chemotherapy and his brother, a year older, has donated bone marrow. But the battle with the cancer has persisted.

As he watched Winter on Friday afternoon from a computer, Ross was taken to a place he's longed to be: swimming with dolphins.

At one point, Winter disappeared from the camera's view.

"There you are, Winter," Ross could be heard saying when the dolphin came back into view.

And when showed the small, gray stuffed animal he will receive via an overnight shipment paid for by Federal Express, Ross could be heard saying: "That's so cool!"

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

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