With all the shopping zeal a preteen girl could muster, Jayla Kemp dashed through Funko’s headquarters in downtown Everett.
“Mom, let’s go to ‘Star Wars,’” the 11-year-old called out. Racing toward a row of shelves in what looks as much like an amusement park as it does a store, she asked “Where are the Porgs?” Grabbing a box with an owl-like critter inside, she was gleeful. “I found the Porgs.”
Full of energy, in jeans and a T-shirt, Jayla looked like any happy girl on an outing with her mom, dad and little brother. On Wednesday, she was on a serious hunt for Pop! figures, the big-headed, big-eyed vinyl collectibles created by Everett-based Funko.
“Are you having the best day ever?” Michelle Kemp asked her daughter. In visiting Everett’s new tourist attraction, which opened in August, the best day ever was the goal.
Jayla has had cystic fibrosis since birth. Her family’s trip to Funko was granted by the Missouri chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, with help from Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington. Her family lives in Fulton, Missouri, a small town a half-hour’s drive from the University of Missouri in Columbia.
A genetic disorder, cystic fibrosis affects cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices. Normally thin fluids are instead thick like rubber cement. The condition, which shortens life expectancy, can cause severe damage to the lungs, digestive system and other organs.
It’s a double-recessive genetic disease. Michelle Kemp said she and her husband, Jason Kemp, are both carriers, which they didn’t know when they married. “It’s considered an invisible disease,” she said. “Jayla looks completely normal and healthy, but it requires a lot of work to maintain that.”
Every day, Jayla needs several hours of airway clearance and breathing treatments. She wears a compression vest twice a day, 30 minutes each time. “She takes 30 pills a day, and takes four inhaled medications,” her mother said.
A sixth-grader at Fulton Middle School, Jayla can be well for months. But a common cold means a trip to the hospital. Those hospital stays may last two weeks, “with IV medications to knock back whatever is growing in her lungs,” Michelle Kemp said.
Jayla’s brother Dylan, 6, also has cystic fibrosis, but has so far been in better health than Jayla.
“We do have our hands full, but that’s our normal,” Michelle Kemp said. “It’s our routine.”
Jayla and her dad have another routine built around Funko fandom — they’re what the company calls “Funatics.”
“Jason started collecting them, it was something they did together. They go on Pop! hunts,” Michelle Kemp said. Day trips from home take them to St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City and Columbia, Missouri, and to Quincy, Illinois. From store parking lots, they race each other to find a prized Pop! figure.
Funko’s Everett headquarters, in the former Trinity Lutheran College building, has collectible figures, plush toys, clothing, backpacks and more that the Kemps would never find in a big-box store back home. There are Disney heroes and villains, DC Comics and Marvel figures, “Star Wars” characters, anime items, a world inspired by Harry Potter, and an assembly line to make your own Freddy Funko or Monster Pop!
Store manager Liz Lawson helped Dylan choose a head, torso, legs and accessories for his custom-made figure. “Jayla, look at my monster,” the boy said to his sister.
She was busy, though, filling 27 hand-held shopping baskets, which surrounded the store’s check-out area. “She can get whatever she wants,” said Hilary Gray, Funko’s marketing manager. Jayla loaded some items into a new Funko backpack to keep with her, but the company was shipping the rest back to the family’s home.
Jessica Mathews, communications manager for Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington, said the chapter here grants about 300 wishes each year. Since its start in 1986, the local chapter has granted more than 6,600 wishes. More kids might be helped, Mathews said, if parents knew that wishes are open to children whose conditions are progressive, degenerative or malignant, not only to those with terminal illnesses.
The Kemps stayed in a downtown Seattle hotel. Before going home, they visited the Pike Place Market, and planned to take a harbor cruise and see the Seattle Aquarium.
“We are back in Missouri, exhausted but filled with gratitude,” Michelle Kemp posted on Facebook late Thursday.
At the Funko store Wednesday, Jayla was quick to answer when asked which is her favorite Pop! figure.
“All of them,” she said. “It’s like asking about your favorite child.”