KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a big milestone for a children's organization in Kansas City, serving kids with life-threatening illnesses. Hope Kids has been in Kansas City for one year.
To celebrate, about 60 children were the first to visit the LEGOLAND Discovery Center Ninjago exhibit. That features ninja Lego characters and a room with laser beams.
The Hope Kids and their families were let in early before LEGOLAND doors opened on Saturday.
One of them is 4-year-old Emerie Wessley. Wessley has Turner Syndome and a heart condition. She has had three open heart surgeries already.
"They had to do an investigative surgery, they had never done in the southern region," explained Monte Wessley, Emerie's father.
Wessley said today his daughter is doing better. She's bursting through doors and surrounded by other kids who have all faced obstacles.
The children were learning karate moves taught by Eric Siley at Self-Defense Global.
He said he kept the pace of the class consistent with those learning the skills, and he even gave them a chance to break a board.
"He said I'm going to kick this board like I kicked cancer," said Kerrie Bryant, executive director of Hope Kids Kansas City Chapter. Bryant said the little boy who said that recently went into remission.
For children with life-threatening illness, germs in public places can pose a problem, so LEGOLAND shut the building down for Hope Kids and specially cleaned the facility.
Price can also be a deter families struggling with medical bills from activities that are considered "extra." That's why Hope Kids pays the bill, making it free to families.
Wessley said another issue with going into public places is people may stare at a child that looks different.
"We get asked if she's a 1, 2 or 3-year-old. No, she's a 4-year-old the size of a 2-year-old," explained Wessley. "Sometimes that's hard to deal with, especially as a kid."
The kids enjoyed the chance to hit back in the karate class, showing how strong they really are.
"No doctor's appointments, no nurses," said Bryant. "You just see hope. Staff, volunteers, people who want to jump in and play with these kids and make them feel 100 percent normal."
Hope Kids plans of dozens events each month. This weekend it is sending about 30 families to the KC Auto Show and families to the Sporting Kansas City home opener.