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Wish Blog

Nov 27, 2013

A Thanksgiving Message from our President & CEO

“It was a celebration of everything we had come through together. It was perfect!”
Dearest friends of Make-A-Wish New Jersey – 

Market research informs us that our name is widely known, which comes as no surprise to our board and staff as we are consistently ranked among the top brands throughout the United States, be they for-profit or not-for-profit companies and organizations.  But it’s in our mission where we are sometimes misunderstood. Allow me to explain, and hopefully, debunk a myth or two.

Our mission statement is simple, “We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy.”  (Simple yes, but oh-so-powerful, some say ‘profound’.)

Nowhere in that sentence do you see the words “terminally-ill”, “cancer”, “last wish” or Disney.  However, so often, the general public perceives our mission as ‘granting the last wish of a child with terminal cancer to travel to a Disney destination’.   It’s not that this mis-perception is entirely wrong, it’s just that it’s only slightly accurate…and only captures a very small subset of the overall population of children we serve, and the wishes we grant.  (Although we are and always will be deeply grateful to our Disney friends as they warmly receive almost 50% of our wish kids, either in their parks or cruises! They are extraordinary partners!)

You see, since our founding 33 years ago – and approximately 300,000 wishes worldwide now -  we’ve learned much about the care and service to children facing serious illnesses.  Working closely with healthcare professionals and families, over time, eventually our mission statement took on revisions, or perhaps better stated, ‘it evolved’.  But it’s been pretty much the same now for well over a decade, especially as it pertains to the absence of the words ‘terminally ill’.

Thankfully, because of advances in science and medicine, many of the children we serve today live beyond their illness, and many receive a prognosis that indicates they’ll live a long and healthy life.  One of the most humbling moments we experience is when they tell us that the ‘hope, strength and joy’ of a wish played instrumental roles in their recovery!  

Last week, our guests at our annual  ‘Medical Professional’s Reception’ were treated to the powerful words of Kerry, a former wish child, who has allowed us to share her remarks here:

There’s three things I knew on the evening of June 27th, 2003:

I had leukemia. I was going to get better. And I get a wish.

When I was eleven years old, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).  After a blood test which led to some more blood work and a bone marrow biopsy, I woke up in a warm, dim room with parents and my aunt sitting across from me. They looked like they had been crying but were trying to smile for me. 

There was another woman with them who was unfamiliar to me, but would become my most trusted confidant over the next three years.  This woman was Joan, my social worker. Joan said to me, “Kerry, you have Leukemia.” 

I immediately burst into tears. She then asked, “Why are you crying?” 

Was this woman dense? Leukemia means I die. I saw “A Walk To Remember”, I know the girl with leukemia dies.  And I explained that to Joan. 

She kind of chuckled and said “Ohhh, I hate that movie.” 

Joan explained to me how far medicine had come from the time that movie was supposed to be set in and explained what leukemia really was. That’s when I knew I would be okay. 

But then Joan told me something really cool. “Do you know what the Make-A-Wish Foundation is?” and I shook my head. “They’re a foundation that grants a wish to someone with a life threatening illness, like you.” 

My. Mind. Was. Blown!

I immediately started to dream of what I would do, where I could go, who I would meet. Ten minutes after I was told I had leukemia I was starting to think, ‘Hey this sickness stuff ain’t so bad if it means I get to have a Wish’. I went home to pack up some things for the hospital and when I walked in the door, I saw my four siblings sitting on the steps.  

My strong, brave 13 yr old big sister Marycate; my loving and confused 9 year old little sister Eileen, whom by the way, was convinced I had “Linguini” for a couple days; my along for the ride 6 year old sister Maureen who knew sitting on the stairs was just the thing to do at the time; and sitting on Marycate’s lap was our baby brother and prince Tommy, who was just over a year old. 

They were devastated. I smiled and gave them all hugs and said, “Don’t worry guys, I’m going to be fine. AND we get a wish!” and they started to dream too.

The healing hope of a wish that is given to not only a child, but a family, when a child gets sick is unmatched by any other. 

I spent a longtime dreaming of what I would do then working to get better so I could have the trip of a lifetime and not have to worry about being sick anymore. The constant focus of a trip without any worry about the financial cost was freeing. I would get better and I would get to go on my make a wish trip with my family and we would celebrate together the triumph we had accomplished.  

I remember looking at my parents on Christmas day in Hawaii and saying “I knew the day I got sick that we would get here.” 

It’s like I said: on the evening of June 27th 2003 I knew 3 things: I had leukemia, I was going to get better, and I got a wish.  Standing just off the beaches of Hawaii at a Christmas luau with my whole family, I was in full remission and finished my leukemia treatment, I was healthy, and I got my wish. 
It was a celebration of everything we had come through together.  It was perfect!”

Kerry Walsh
Drexel University '14
College of Nursing and Health Professions
Women's Varsity Rowing, Co-Captain 2013-2014

We serve children with life threatening medical conditions, and their families, who understand better than most, the immediacy, fragility and preciousness of life itself.  Being witness to their life stories, inspires us to advance our mission ever further in the community.  

Of course, tragically, many of the children we have met, are meeting, and will meet soon, have and will succumb to their illness. Science and medicine have not yet caught up for them.  Those we’ve met, we never forget!

On this eve of the day we set aside to give thanks, I sit here at my desk thankful for all your gifts to us, be they ‘time, talent or treasure’.  We are unable to execute our mission without you, it’s as simple as that.

As you gather with your families and friends tomorrow, please remember our wish children and their families in your Thanksgiving prayers, especially Hannah’s and other families who will be spending their first holiday without their precious and beautiful child/children.   And kindly remember too the healthcare professionals who serve these special children.

On behalf of our Board and staff,  Happy Thanksgiving.

Thomas P. Weatherall
President & CEO
Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey

P.S. Please enjoy this video montage with your friends and family!

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Make-A-Wish® New Jersey
Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place
1384 Perrineville Road
Monroe Township, NJ 08831
(609) 371-9474
Toll Free (800) 252-9474