A huge smile broke across 19-year-old Ashley Bishop’s face as she turned the key to her new Jeep Wrangler last Monday.
A first car is a thrill for any teenager, drawn to the freedom of an open road. For Ashley, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 7, the Jeep is a childhood dream come true.
The keys were handed over as a result of joint effort between the Make a Wish Foundation, Mullen Motors and Ashley’s mom, Stacey, who purchased the vehicle last fall.
According to Ms. Bishop, Ashley had been nominated for a wish by nurses at Boston’s Children’s Hospital when she was 16. Initially, she crossed her fingers for a dream vacation: snowboarding in Canada.
“We would try to plan trips but she kept getting sick or hospitalized, so it was too difficult to coordinate,” Ms. Bishop explained from her Southold home Monday.
The self-proclaimed adventure junkie and lover of the cold and saltwater — which help her breathe easier — has never let her illness slow her down.
“You have to keep everything moving. I can’t sit still,” Ashley said.
Then, the idea of a Jeep Wrangler dawned on her mother.
“ ‘I want a Jeep,’ is all I’ve heard since she was 4 years old,” Ms. Bishop said.
Though Make a Wish doesn’t give out vehicles, it did cover the cost of souping up the 2015 Wrangler for Ashley. “We were able to take this basic Jeep and transform it into what she envisioned as her wish,” said Suffolk Make a Wish CEO Karine Hollander.
“This wish has allowed Ashley to dream and explore the possibilities that life has to offer outside of the struggles that she faces medically,” Ms. Hollander said Tuesday. “The Jeep represents her creative vision and gives her independence as a young woman.”
Hours of labor and $9,000 later, the Jeep is now outfitted with custom tires and rims, a new bumper, interior floor lights that change colors and sync to music, a remote-controlled power winch, new stereo and GPS system, LED light bar, tail light guards, a new rustproof frame, a soft top and tube doors — and is ready for many off-road adventures to come.
“We took care of the labor so she could get all the accessories she really wanted,” said Bill Mullen of Mullen Motors. His son Liam, who graduated from Southold High School with Ashley last June, installed the accessories while he was home from college for winter break.
“They always talked about Jeeps growing up,” Mr. Mullen said, adding that Liam enjoys working on his own Wrangler in his spare time.
The night she brought the car home, Ms. Bishop had trouble finding her daughter.
“Instead of going for a ride in her new car, she was just sitting in the driveway in it,” she said, laughing.
Ashley said she’s mostly gone joyriding to local beaches and can’t wait to get her beach permit in the spring. “I’ll be at Shinnecock beach, if anyone needs me,” she quipped.
The Jeep enthusiast said she always dreamed of having her own one day. “They’re awesome. You can take them anywhere,” she said.
The bubbly teenager is enthusiastic about life, and frank about living with cystic fibrosis.
“I’m used to it now,” she said, describing her regimen of various medications, diet and needing to sleep a lot. There are still bouts where she must be admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital for weeks at a time. “You start to go stir crazy. It’s torture.”
The genetic disorder causes perpetual lung infections and can compromise breathing due to mucus build-up in the airways.
Staff at the hospital have remarked that the mood lightens whenever Ashley and her mom check in, and Ms. Bishop has become a source of support for other parents navigating the world of CF.
“Your life changes,” Ms. Bishop said. “Everything has to be planned around [Ashley’s] treatment. But what else are you going to do?”
Staying positive is second nature for the duo, who laugh and joke around and try not to take life too seriously. In December, they got matching tattoos that refer to the disorder. Lifting her shirtsleeve, Ms. Bishop reveals a fresh tattoo that reads “Just breathe.”
“If you’re the parent of a CF kid, that’s really all you want them to do,” she said.
The “r” in breathe is an arrowhead, which ties into Ashley’s three tattoos, each representing one of the three variants of her illness. There are over 2,000 mutations of the gene that causes cystic fibrosis.
They both expressed gratitude to the Make a Wish Foundation and the Mullens. “They really stepped up and helped make her wish come true,” Ms. Bishop said, touched that her daughter’s classmate had a hand in making it happen.
“We’re Wrangler buddies now,” Ashley said of Liam.
Bill Mullen said last Monday afternoon that he can’t think of a more deserving driver. “I watched her grow up, and I feel bad,” he said. “She’s missed a lot of stuff because of the cystic fibrosis. I’m glad we could help make her dream come true.”
Photo caption: 19-year-old Ashley Bishop and her new Jeep Wrangler. (Tara Smith photo)