It's the last week in 1987. As you look forward to 1988, you probably have a lot of things to be excited about. Maybe 1988 will be the year you go to sleep-away camp for the first time. Maybe it will be the year you finally get your braces off. Maybe your family is planning a winter ski trip or a summer vacation at the beach.
As you make your New Year's resolutions, you may also find yourself wishing for something special to happen to you next year. You may wish for a baby brother or sister, or for a chance to learn how to ride horseback.
Everyone wishes and hopes for good things as they look forward to a new year. But for some children those wishes may have a special meaning. They are children who have serious diseases -- the kinds of illnesses that mean they have to spend many days in the hospital having medical treatments.
If you have ever been very sick, you know that one of the hardest things about it is that it keeps you from doing things you would like to do. You may wish and wish and wish that you were doing something fun like taking a trip to Disney World or riding in a fire truck. Instead, you're stuck in a hospital or in bed at home, while kids who aren't sick get to go fun places and do fun things. It's hard! No wonder kids who are sick make wishes about enjoyable things they'd like to do -- if only they could.
In communities around the United States, there are nice people who make it their business to find out what wishes sick children have. Then they try to figure out how to make the wishes come true. One such organization is the Make-A-Wish foundation. It has 70 Make-A-Wish chapters in the United States, including one in the Washington, D.C. area. Since 1983, the national foundation has granted the wishes of about 1,000 children with life-threatening illnesses. In 1987, the Washington chapter has made the wishes of more than 100 kids in our area come true.
Here are a few of those kids' stories. Their names have been changed to protect their privacy.
Maria, age 6, has cancer. Her illness means that she has to use a lot of medical equipment, and have a nurse to take care of her all the time. But she still wanted to go to Disney World, even though it would be complicated to get there. The foundation made arrangements for Maria, her family, and her nurse to go to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
Ray, a 15-year-old, has muscular dystrophy, and has to be in a wheelchair. The long hours at home can be boring and lonely. Ray's wish was to have a complete computer system to use at home. The foundation found a generous store owner in Bethesda who donated a complete Apple IIC system for Ray to use.
Jason, a toddler, has cancer. The 2 1/2-year-old told Make-A-Wish that "I want to play with animals." So officials at the National Zoo arranged a "behind the cages" tour for him. He got to feed carrots to Hsing-Hsing, the giant panda. Jason also visited the Pet-a-Pet Farm in Reston. Both his adventures were recorded on a videotape. He enjoys watching the tape at home -- especially when he's not feeling well after his cancer treatments.
Bill Cosby, the TV star, has been 15-year-old Tammy's hero for as long as she can remember. Tammy has Hodgkin's disease. The foundation arranged for her to visit the comedian on the set of "The Cosby Show." She and the star exchanged presents and told jokes. It was thrilling, Tammy says.
Those are just as few of the wishes that kids with serious illnesses had granted this year. The fun of getting their wish made them forget about their sickness for a while. Afterward, they had happy memories of the adventure to look back on.
People who volunteer to help grant wishes for children with serious illnesses say that the experience is rewarding. It feels good to make someone's dream come true. But there is often a sad part, too. Some of the children Make-a-Wish helps are so sick that they do not get better. Some of them die. But the families of the "wish children" say that remembering the happy day when their child had a wish granted helps give them strength and comfort.
If you know kids who are sick at home or in the hospital, you can probably help some of their wishes come true. You can't get them on a flight to Disney World, or backstage at "The Cosby Show." But simple things can mean just as much to someone who's not feeling well. You can go visit them, or write them a funny letter, or send them a tape of their favorite music. Often one of a sick child's wishes is simply for someone to play with, or someone to talk to. And that's a pretty easy wish to grant.
Tips for Parents
For more information about the non-profit Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Washington, contact the group at 10215 Fernwood Road, Suite 16-LL, Bethesda, Md. 20817; phone 493-6777. A number of other organizations also seek to enrich the lives of children with life-threatening illnesses. Among them is Mail for Tots, 25 New Chardon St., P.O. Box 8699, Boston, Mass. 02114, a group of volunteers who write letters to cheer up seriously ill or handicapped children. Candlelighters, a group of parents whose children have had cancer, offers counseling and publications for families of young cancer patients. They can be reached at 1910 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 1001, Washington, D.C.; phone 659-5136.Catherine O'Neill is a free-lance children's writer in Baltimore.