With hundreds of her fellow students cheering, Emma Cortese received the thrill of a lifetime Tuesday.
The third-grade student at Ranchwood Elementary and her family will spend a week later this year in Orlando, Florida, enjoying an all-expenses paid vacation courtesy of Baking Memories 4 Kids and Panera Bread.
Emma was diagnosed at just five weeks old with Williams Syndrome, which is caused by a deletion of genes within her chromosome makeup.
Because of the abnormality, those with Williams Syndrome often have medical and development problems, including cardiovascular disease, intellectual disabilities and distinctive facial characteristics.
Emma’s parents said she has a mild form of the syndrome, which has led to some facial deformity as well as developmental delays, weak muscles and vision problems.
“We are blessed because she has a mild case,” said her father, Gary Cortese.
Emma, who was born six weeks premature, was diagnosed at five weeks old, said her mother, Cortney Cortese.
Doctors noticed problems when she was about two weeks old and performed genetic testing.
Since then, she has undergone 18 surgeries.
Despite her issues, Emma is described as a happy, healthy and loving sweet girl.
Principal Kristin Lipe nominated Emma for the Baking Memories 4 Kids program.
“She’s beautiful inside and out. She is a heart of gold and comes from such a special family. She brings so much to our students, and for them to learn from her how to get through challenges and to be the best they can be,” Lipe said.
Tuesday’s surprise announcement came during a student assembly.
Emma was unaware that she was receiving the presentation.
Frank Squeo, who founded the non-profit six years ago after surviving cancer, made the presentation.
While he was describing Emma to the audience, several students appeared to know exactly who he was describing.
When her name was announced, Emma appeared stunned, then excited at the revelation that she would be going to Florida.
Emma’s announcement was one of seven being made this week in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, the foundation received a check for $175,000 from Panera Bread’s Traditional Bakery Inc./Oklahoma City Bakery.
The money was raised by asking customers to round up their bill to the next dollar, and through cookie sales during the holiday season.
The franchise owns 32 restaurants in Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas.
Aubrey Iasiello, the market relations manager for Panera, said the restaurants are proud to participate in the program.
“It really is a once in a lifetime event,” Iasiello, the market relations manager for Panera Bread.