When Joanne Wirtjes asked for stuffed cows for her 9-year-old son, Ryan, she never expected their herd of cattle would become so large.
Ryan has a rare mitochondrial disorder that causes a wide array of medical issues, from hydrocephalus — a fluid build up in the brain that requires a shunt to drain excess fluid — to symptoms like frequent vomiting, bowel and colon problems, and chronic pain. He has loved stuffed animal cows ever since receiving one from the Make-A-Wish foundation several years ago.
After a difficult year filled with illness and medical appointments, Ryan was feeling lonely and sad about his health, until his mom thought of the idea to request stuffed cows from around the world to be mailed to their Wisconsin home to cheer him up.
To date, Ryan has received more then 100 stuffed cows and bulls in the mail, along with cow socks, blankets, t-shirts and slippers.
"Ryan is jumping over the moon, just like the cow in the nursery rhyme did," Wirtjes told TODAY Parents. "He loves these cows — he's naming them and wants to figure out how to tag them so he can make sure that we know who's who."
But it isn't just the packages filled with bovines that are lifting Ryan's spirits — it's the notes of encouragement included in every box.
"The letters have been so encouraging," said Wirtjes. "Some have told of the struggles the sender has faced and encourage Ryan to keep going, some are about a shared love of cows, some have asked what else they could do to help Ryan, and some have invited us to come to their farms and visit live cows."
Wirtjes says the letters have touched her deeply as well.
"My heart has been so blessed," said Wirtjes. "We are so blessed to be Ryan's parents and we are so thankful for everyone who has sent cows to Ryan. This momma's heart is so full."
Stuffed cows for Ryan's herd can be mailed to:
3969 Meadowbrook Court
Sheboygan, WI 53081