Shimmering lights on rooftops, the musky scent of pine trees decorated with sentimental ornaments, warm eggnog, the crinkling of wrapping paper being torn apart by smiling children, sharing special moments with family and friends; these are the hallmarks of Christmas. This season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the message of Hope and Love He bestowed on us, I hope Christmas inspires a recommitted desire for compassion and sacrifice.
It feels quite easy to bask in the glow of the lights and festivities when my health is strong and my family is content.
But I haven’t always been so fortunate.
The location was Arizona. The year, 1982. A birth that should have been a celebrated was one of concern. Right away the doctors noticed how blue I was and realized it was due to heart complications; I had to be operated on right away! My mother recalls the fear and worry she had as a young woman when her first born was taken from her arms. “I never even had a moment to hold you before the doctors took you to operate.”
Unfortunately, because I was so small, the doctors couldn’t completely correct my heart issues but did what they could to keep it functioning until I was old enough for major surgery. Seven years and four operations later, I had my fifth and final open heart improvement: The Modified Fontan Procedure. Learning about the procedure years later, I was quite amazed how they successfully restructured the heart/lung/blood flow dynamics. I was dubbed, “The Miracle Child.”
I finally felt confident with my new lease on life! Overcoming the life and death situations brought the attention of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. One morning there was a surprising knock at the door: 3 women- “Make-A-Wish Ferries”- come to ask, if I had one wish, what would it be? They gave my little brother and I some gifts and said goodbye, leaving me to ponder my wish. My memory is a little fuzzy on the gifts but I do recall two stuffed animals: red and green M&Ms.
Fast forward>> The day of the wish….
Early morning, with our bags packed, our family waited excitedly for our ride to the airport. Suddenly a sleek, white limousine pulled up to the edge of our driveway. “Welcome to your ride.” We were all nervous with excitement as we made our way to the airport, my brother and I playing with the electric divider window, tv, mini fridge as we were bouncing off the seats. A few twists and turns….we arrived at the airport terminal: Destination Florida.
My wish was to visit Disney World….Wish Granted!
Upon arrival, we were driven to a beautiful hotel which catered to Make-A-Wish children and their families. Our room was stocked with ice-cream bars, fruit and other goodies. The smile on my face was bright enough to light a room and any worries I had about my health faded away.
The first morning of the trip started wonderfully! Make-A-Wish organized a delicious outdoor breakfast with Disney characters for all the kids and their families. I remember my three-year-old little brother being so shy around the beautiful Cinderella. He and I were given Disney notebooks to get all the Characters’ autographs. I still have mine somewhere packed away….a meaningful keepsake.
That week spent at the Disney Theme Park was filled with amazing memories. Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s A Small World, the Teacups, Swiss Family Robinson Tree-house, Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain; just thinking about those rides bring a feeling of magic to my heart. T.M.R.R was a roller coaster on top of a mountain. As you race and jerk each way, you feel as though death is imminent. Space Mountain meanwhile, was a crazy fast roller coaster in a pitch black room with little lights all around. It feels as if you are actually flying through space. It was so scary, yet thrilling, I road on it twice!
But my favorite of all the rides was Captain E.O. It was a ride staring Michael Jackson- my favorite singer at the time- about a captain and his crew traveling through space. The ride utilized a new technology at the time: 3D. I remember wearing those funky glasses and reaching out to grab those space rocks flying at my face!
That trip was one of the best experiences of my life! It gave our whole family wonderful memories and a renewed hope for the the future.
Unbeknownst to me, I owed it all to Linda Powling, the innovator of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which she started as a response to lift her dying son’s depression. Linda and her group of mothers decided that every child deserves to feel special, despite their unfortunate circumstances. The ladies started raising money and filling a wish: one sick child at a time.
For over 30 years they continued spreading joy to deathly ill children through their foundation and changed the lives of over a quarter million special youngsters.
Doing some research, I was amazed at the commonalities between Chris Powling, his mother and my mother and me. Both Chris and I had/have strong mothers who would do anything to protect us. As my mom often tells me, “You’re my world.”
Also coincidentally, Make-A-Wish started in Phoenix, Arizona where I was born and raised. But most interesting to me to me is the fact that young Chris died in 1980 at 7 years old; I was born two years later in 1982 and had my “Wish” granted when I was 7 years old.
I feel blessed to have outlasted the doctor’s expectations on how long I would live and reading about the boy who started it all, my eyes tear up. Linda Powling may not have been able to save her son from dying but what she did do was turn her sadness and despair into hope for children in similar situations. I am thankful for her selflessness and determination to turn her own tragedy into joy for other families.
I feel that having been a Make-A-Wish child, and survived, I have a responsibility to pay it forward by living each moment full of passion!
Looking back at my own Make-A-Wish trip and all the memorable experiences, I now realize the beauty of the “Wish” was that it allowed me to forget my health concerns and feel like a happy, “normal” kid.
**When a wish is granted, hope is restored.**