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Rescued dolphin celebrates 19 years at Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Christmas Eve

Nicholas celebrated life with a bone marrow transplant patient
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Posted at 5:42 PM, Dec 24, 2021

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Two miracles got to meet each other for the first time at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Christmas Eve — a young girl recovering from a bone marrow transplant and a bottlenose dolphin rescued 19 years ago, to the day.

Jade Westbrooks, from St Louis, has sickle cell anemia. She recently turned 18 while in the hospital getting a bone marrow transplant. She is her family’s miracle after her older sister did not survive the disease that they were both born with.

The bone marrow transplant helps me and I was really lucky because a lot of kids have to do it multiple times or don't make it out of it and I was able to,” Westbrooks told ABC Action News.

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Triumph is something she and Nicholas, or Nick, the dolphin have in common.

He and his mother, Noel, were rescued off the shore just north of Apollo Beach in 2002. His mother had an upper respiratory infection and could no longer swim.

“Nicholas was only six months old at the time and didn't know any better but to follow his mom every single place she went,” said Clearwater Aquarium Senior Animal Care Specialist Elizabeth Bullock. “So because of that, he also went on to the beach and they did both suffer second and third-degree sunburn.”

The burn scars are still visible on Nick’s back today.

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“He was determined non-releasable because unfortunately, Noel did end up passing away after a few days,” Bullock explained. “And baby dolphins typically need their mom for about a year to two years old and they spend usually about three to seven years with mom learning everything.”

On the 19th anniversary of his rescue, Nick is thriving. In fact, he’s loving the attention.

When he is correct and he's very proud of himself, he goes and does a touchdown dance in the middle of the pool and it's actually really funny to watch,” Bullock laughed.

"I do relate to Nicholas because we both have scars that will like never leave us both physically and emotionally,” Westbrooks said. “But at the same time we're so happy and we're able to be here and connect with people and it's okay the bad things happen because good things are always bound to happen too.”

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium connects with hospitals across the US to find children and teens who could use a little inspiration from their marine life.

They sponsored Westbrook’s trip to Clearwater where she got to meet the animals, go on a boat for the first time, and go into the ocean for the first time without having to worry about being too cold and in pain.