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AS LIFE FADES, A DOLPHIN'S GIFT

A video of Winter brings laughter and a smile to a boy's last day.

Ross Perri's dream was to swim with dolphins. But the 12-year-old resident of Jericho, Vt., was desperately ill with leukemia, so family members and folks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium gave him the next best thing.

Friday, with the use of a videocamera and a computer, they brought Winter, a tailless dolphin, to Perri's bedroom. Ross laughed and smiled and talked of how cool it was to watch Winter jump and splash. It's that smile that the boy's family will remember.

He died that night.

Ross never received the package of T-shirts, books and a stuffed animal replica of Winter that the aquarium overnighted to him. But Ross did get to see a dolphin.

"He enjoyed it so much, and we are really happy that he got a chance to see Winter," said Anthony Perri, Ross' father, in a telephone interview from Vermont. "He would have loved that package. But watching Winter was a nice time out of what was a bad day."

Ross was 10 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He received chemotherapy and two bone marrow transplants. But it wasn't enough.

"The leukemia killed his ability to make blood," Anthony Perri said. "He lost blood and wasn't able to make any."

About five years ago, Ross came to Orlando and had an opportunity to feed dolphins. He had loved them ever since.

Knowing his love for the animals, cousins Jason and Nancy Liquori of Apopka helped set up the 1,400-mile video visit with Winter.

"I'm pleased we got it done in time," said Jason Liquori, while driving to Vermont on Wednesday morning. "We didn't think we were on that kind of time restraint, but we are just pleased that we got it done in time."

Although disappointed that Ross didn't live to enjoy the package they sent, Jeni Hatter of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is pleased that Ross had a reason to smile Friday.

"It stopped all of us in our tracks and made us realize how precious life is, and this is the least we could have done," Hatter said. "The smile on his face, and we could hear it in his voice, knowing we helped bring joy to him at the end of his life will always stick with me and the people who were involved."

Winter lost her tail when she was 2 months old after becoming entangled in a crab trap. She was rescued off Cape Canaveral and brought to the aquarium, where she learned to swim again after being fitted with an artificial tail. Winter is now almost 4 years old.

Hatter said that Friday's video experience showed the staff that they can bring that kind of joy to other children. They now plan to create a program in Ross Perri's honor that will bring Winter into the homes of other sick children. They hope to have the program up and running by year's end, Hatter said.

"We will be able to take Winter outside these walls," Hatter said. "This (videocamera) will be a great way to do that for other people who are in tough situations."

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

TO DONATE

Memorial fund

Send checks for the Ross Perri Memorial Fund for Animals to 6 Kriste Lane, Jericho, VT, 05465

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