January 6, 2022 By Dottie Farrar
When 8-year-old Dáyami released a red balloon with her Christmas wish list tied to it in Nogales, Sonora and watched it rise toward the North Pole in 2018, she set off a series of events that would connect two families across the Border and inspire a major toy company to make a movie.
Sending Christmas wishes to Santa via balloon was a tradition with her family, and her parents Christian Leyva and Damaris Martinez had taken a video of Dáyami and her sister Ximena letting go of the balloons with hope and excitement.
A few days later, Randy Heiss was out walking his dog in Patagonia when he spied a red balloon with a note written in Spanish attached. He knew he had to find the little girl who was likely in Mexico and fulfill her Christmas wishes. He and his wife, Marcella, who is fluent in Spanish, reached out to friends and contacts across the border but without luck. With Christmas just around the corner they were becoming anxious and contacted radio station XENY 760 AM in Nogales, Sonora for help. Radio show host Cesár Barron immediately broadcast the search for Dayami and posted the story on Facebook. Within an hour she was found.
The next day the radio station arranged a meeting between the Heisses and Dáyami’s family. Randy and Marcella shopped at Walmart on the way, finding as many items on the list as they could and added presents for little sister Ximena. They hurriedly wrapped the presents at the station. It was a wonderful meeting, and Dayami’s parents promised to send a video of the girls opening their presents on Christmas. The families made plans to meet in the new year.
This Christmas story quickly gained national attention and was reported by NPR, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC Nightly News, as well as on Mexican and other international news networks. The families met and corresponded often during the next two years, and the Christmas gift giving became a tradition for Randy and Marcella.
Then came a surprise announcement from Mattel on Dec. 16, 2021, that the company would produce the ”Christmas Balloon,” a film featuring Dáyami, her family and the Heisses. The press release stated that Gabriella Revilla Lugo will write the sceenplay. Producer Chris Lemos said that “Randy and Marcella’s story exemplifies the holiday spirit and shows the miraculous way small acts of kindness can change lives, bring families together, and inspire entire communities on both sides of the border.” The Heisses have been given some editorial rights and will ensure that the story not become political, but will instead remain “the story of people doing something wonderful for a little girl”.
For several years, radio host Barron has worked to make it possible for around five thousand kids in Mexico to receive Christmas gifts. This year, Marcella had suggested to Mattel that the company contribute gifts for kids in Sonora. In answer to her request, three 50-pound boxes arrived at the Heisses with about two thousand toys. They transported the boxes across the border, hoping that perhaps next year there will be even more.
Dáyami, now eleven and very self-assured, presented gifts to some of the one thousand children assembled in a large gymnasium in Sonora.
On Christmas Eve 2021, Randy and Marcella once again crossed the border, having been invited to join Dáyami’s family’s Christmas Eve celebration in person for the first time. In a home filled with Christmas spirit, good food, music, and happy relatives coming and going, the Heisses watched Dáyami and her sister open their presents. All enjoyed a special, magical evening full of hope, gratitude, and love.
They plan to continue to meet during the new year. Dáyami and her family will renew their visas now that the border has reopened and visit Randy and Marcella in Bisbee and Patagonia where they live and work.
When interviewed by the PRT in Jan. 2019, Randy said that he hoped that the message people receive from the story is to “never miss an opportunity to spread love and kindness. Do that good deed, don’t ignore it, because the world needs it. If everyone would do that, then the world would be a different place than it is today.”