Anyone within earshot of kids has heard, "Gee, I wish . . ."
. . . for a ride on a fire truck, a pet, a visit to Disney World, to meet a famous person, maybe simply to see Grandma.
Although such desires are hardly uncommon, they take on a particular poignancy when expressed by a child in the last stages of terminal illness.
To meet the special wishes of dying children, Grant-a-Wish Foundation was launched officially last week in Baltimore and will begin working with hospitals in the D.C. area this summer.
The catalyst for this area's program is Brian Morrison, assistant director for public relations at the University of Maryland Baltimore Campus. He had heard of similar programs in Arizona and Philadelphia and decided to create Grant-a-Wish two years ago when he was between jobs.
"I have always loved children," says the 27-year-old bachelor who will be married in May. "I have 30 or so cousins and I can feel for children who are sick. It is heartbreaking, but rewarding because it is also for the families."
Grant-a-Wish is currently working with the Johns Hopkins Hospital, University of Maryland Hospital and Ronald McDonald House, a special facility that houses sick children and their families while the children receive treatment in nearby hospitals.
"When a wish made by a termnally ill child is granted, it won't reverse the course of disease," acknowledges Dudley Warner, social worker at the University of Maryland Hospital's child cancer unit and Grant-a-Wish board member, "but it may bring a happier moment or two to the distraught lives of the child and his family."
Through talks with children at the University Hospital, Warner has learned that "a sick child's wishes may be very sensitive, such as that his family's medical bills not be overwhelming or that they not be made miserably unhappy by his illness. Often he may long to spend time with a beloved relative who is far way.
"Adults sometimes think in more superficial, even gimmicky, wishes that may make them feel better but won't help the child.
"It is vitally important that we look at the wishes of the children themselves rather than at adult fantasies of children's wishes."
Warner recalls that not long ago one dying 2 1/2-year-old wanted desperately, and received, a pet dog which provided comfort in the child's final days. "This is an example of meeting a wish that proved helpful."
Other wishes of elementary school-age children expressed recently include a boy's desire to spend time as a policeman, a girl as a secretary.
Wishes are screened through a Grant-a-Wish committee, which includes a social worker and members of the child's medical team.
Grant-a-Wish is entirely volunteer-run and relies on donations of money and services. Donors, says Morrison, have offered trips to the beach, rides on boats, visits to the White House. An Eastern Shore waterman offered to take a child crabbing, a carpenter to build a doll house. The Baltimore Colts and Orioles have volunteered visits.
There are no geographic limits to Grant-a-Wish, says Morrison, and efforts will be made to answer all feasible wishes.
Referrals may be made to Brian Morrison, Grant-a-Wish Foundation, Office of University Relations, UMBC, Catonsville, Md. 21228 or by calling (301) 455-2901.