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Wish come true makes big splash

Enjoying the hot tub are Aaron Bissell, at left, and his brother Eric, who is held by their father, Rich Bissell.  Behind them are Cindy Bissell and Anthony Bissell. Photo by Virginia Campbell

Enjoying the hot tub are Aaron Bissell, at left, and his brother Eric, who is held by their father, Rich Bissell. Behind them are Cindy Bissell and Anthony Bissell. Photo by Virginia Campbell
Enjoying the hot tub are Aaron Bissell, at left, and his brother Eric, who is held by their father, Rich Bissell. Behind them are Cindy Bissell and Anthony Bissell.  Photo by Virginia Campbell

By Donna Daley
Telegram & Gazette Staff

GRAFTON– From the moment he enters the water, Eric Bissell sings. There’s his rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus,” but mostly he sings Walt Disney classics.
Eric is a veritable jukebox of animated tunes and his favorite is a Jiminy Cricket ditty, “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
Eight-year-old Eric, who has cerebral palsy, made his wish four years ago, whether or not upon a star is uncertain, but it came true nonetheless.
A month ago, Eric received a hot tub, courtesy of Starlight Children’s Foundation of New England. ThermoSpas donated the tub and Priority Electric provided the connection.
Starlight Children’s Foundation is an international nonprofit organization with the mission to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children and their families. Among other activities, it grants the wishes of children between the ages of 4 and 18 who have chronic, serious or life-threatening illnesses.
The New England chapter has granted 600 wishes to date.
At least once a day, Eric splashes around his “Cinderella Pool,” named for his favorite Disney character. The hot tub was chosen from a wish list of Eric’s favorite things that included an all-day elevator ride and a day spent at a Disney Store watching Disney features on the store’s big screen television.
This hot tub is something Eric has hoped for since his fourth birthday, when he and his identical twin brother, Aaron, and his parents, Richard and Cindy Bissell visited Storyland in New Hampshire.
It was their first time away from home, in a hotel, which caused Eric some anxiety. To calm his fears, his parents told him he was staying in Cinderella’s house.
That night, he discovered the hot tub. He had seen and used regular swimming pools, but never a hot tub.
The hot tub is as therapeutic for Eric as it is refreshing. In the pool, Eric, who uses a wheelchair, is weightless and able to move freely. Eric’s physician said the benefits of hydrotherapy also include increased breath control, improved balance and coordination, increased mobility and range of motion, and increased strength and endurance.
Eric has been dubbed by his family as the “King of the Hot Tub.”
The pool also has helped relax Eric’s muscles, which sometimes go into spasms. Before settling in for the night, Eric usually needs to take a muscle relaxant. But on the nights that he spends in the pool he falls asleep within minutes, without medication.
“He just wades in the water and it relaxes his muscles,” Cindy Bissell said.
“This is a wish that is going to keep on giving for years and years,” she added.
Eric and Aaron were born 3.5 months premature with severe disabilities — Eric with cerebral palsy, and Aaron with damage to his trachea and windpipe from a breathing tube he needed as an infant. Because scar tissue blocked his airway, Aaron needed a tracheostomy, for the first four years of his life, which allowed him to breathe through an opening in his throat.
In May, the Bissell family grew by one more. On May 1, Mr. and Mrs. Bissell adopted Anthony, a 9-year-old boy with cerebral palsy from New York City who had been in their care as a foster child since last year.
Mr. and Mrs. Bissell have become resources for parents of children with similar disabilities. In 1996, they created a Web site ( dedicated to Aaron, to provide information about tracheostomies, and it has becoming a leading Web site on that topic.
They also have developed a Web site for a local disability resource group,
Information on the Starlight Children’s Foundation can be found at


When You Wish Upon A Star

ThermoSpas Helps Starlight Make A Sick Child’s Wish Come True

ericbandwThrough the cooperation and generous donations of ThermoSpas, Priority Electric and the Starlight Children’s Foundation of New England, Eric — an 8 year-old second grader from Grafton, MA who suffers from cerebral palsy (CP) — had his wish granted just in time for summer.

The Starlight Children’s Foundation of New England is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for seriously ill children and their families. The Foundation grants wishes to children with chronic health problems and wanted to offer Eric, who has suffered from CP since he was born prematurely, the chance to make his dream come true.

When Starlight approached Eric and his family about granting his once-in-a- lifetime wish, Eric had a big decision to make. A huge Disney fan, Eric first mentioned that he would love the chance to hang out watching movies at the Disney Store for hours. Another wish idea he tossed around was to ride in an elevator in a tall building for a day. Yet, much to his parent’s relief, Eric — who is confined to a wheelchair – decided he really wanted the freedom and relaxation he got from a hotel hot tub, but in his own backyard.

After being contacted by the Starlight Children’s Foundation of New England about this bright, fun kid, ThermoSpas quickly decided to donate and install an Avalon Spa, which is big enough to fit the whole family, yet still fit in their backyard. It comes with 22 jets for therapy and an ice bucket and shelf for drinks. Priority Electric stepped in and donated the electrical hookup.

Eric calls his hot tub, appropriately enough, a “Cinderella Pool.” The name comes from his great fondness for the “stepsister-turned-princess.” Yet, the selection also& shows the uncanny similarity between Eric and the fairy tale character who, through& the kind granting of a wish, is able to see her dreams come true and her life change for the better.

Not only does a hot tub provide Eric with a chance to move and play freely on his own, but it also offers proven therapy. Eric’s doctor, Christopher Stille, MD of UMASS Memorial Health Care, says the benefits of hydrotherapy (water therapy) include Muscle relaxation, which can reduce muscle spasms in children with spastic CP, Decreased gravity, which increases breath control, Improved trunk control, balance and coordination, Increased mobility and range of motion for children who are wheelchair-bound, Increased strength and endurance.

Eric lives with his parents, Cynthia and Richard, his twin brother Aaron, and his adopted brother Anthony. Aaron, like Eric, was born prematurely and has had some severe health problems including a now-removed tracheostomy. Eric’s brother Anthony also has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.