Photo credit: The Press-Enterprise
The Make-A-Wish Foundation is well known among those suffering from chronic illness and the population at large. The foundation has made many headlines for keeping true to its mission to “grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.” And that’s exactly what it did for Ryan Schwyzer, a 13-year-old boy living with cystic fibrosis.
Ryan wished for a pool, as he loves the pool and being in the water, according to his father. Ryan arrived at his Hemet, California home in August to see a fire truck outside, an added bonus. In addition to the pool, Ryan got the chance to try on firefighter gear and use the fire hose. His mother noted how happy her son looked with his surprises.
Ryan’s story is just one example of the many children who the Make-A-Wish Foundation have helped over the years. The origins of the foundation aligns perfectly with what the organization is still doing today. In 1980, U.S. customs agent Tommy Austin wanted to help the son of his friend, who had been fighting terminal leukemia. The young boy, Chris Greicius, was only 7 years old. He longed to be a police officer and work beside Austin. When Austin told his friend, Department of Public Safety officer Ron Cox, of the Chris’ wish, Cox was instantly on board. His colleagues who heard Chris’ story had similar reactions. They all worked together to grant Chris’ wish and give him a fantastic day with the DPS.
The group involved with Chris’ wish, and even those who simply heard about it, had a desire to help other sick children make their dreams become a reality. Just months after Chris’ wish day, in November 1980 the foundation was granted tax exempt status as a non-profit organization. They granted their next wish the following spring with just $2,000 they had raised from donations. The foundation was incorporated a few years later, in May 1983, following a NBC Magazine television report showcased the charity and its work. Unsurprisingly, after seeing the show, public enthusiasm for the charity exploded. People were literally clogging the DPS phone lines trying to see how they could contribute to the charity’s work helping children.
Since 1985, over 285,000 children have had their wishes granted by the foundation. The foundation notes that while granting these wishes is an extremely positive experience for the children, it would be even better if there weren’t any children in the position that they needed these wishes to be granted.
Someone is eligible to have a wish granted by the foundation if they are between the age 2 and 18 and a half and have a “life-threatening medical condition.” This can include a large variety of conditions, such as leukemia, which the first “wish kid” Chris Greicius was diagnosed with, and cystic fibrosis, which Ryan Schwyzer currently lives with.
Any major medical condition can be a serious impediment to the life of a young child. Cystic fibrosis, which affects the secretory glands and causes large amounts of mucus buildup in the body, requires almost constant care. Treatments must be performed daily, sometimes multiple times a day, to make sure the respiratory system is clear of mucus and the lungs can continue functioning. The impact that the condition has on the respiratory system also means that people with CF may need to refrain from participating in sports and other physical activities. For Ryan, though, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. According to his father, Ryan “can keep up with the other kids… he plays all day long.” A pool where he can splash around all day seems to be the perfect addition to Ryan’s backyard.
Along with the chance for physical activity and family fun, Ryan’s new pool may actually help with his CF symptoms. One symptom of CF is salty skin, and people with CF lose more salt through sweat when they exercise than other people. Since low blood sodium can cause its own problems, people with CF need to be careful during physical activity. Ryan’s pool is outfitted with a saltwater system “that has proven to be helpful to cystic fibrosis patients.”
Along with at home treatments, children with chronic illnesses often end up spending lots of time in hospitals receiving treatments. Ryan, who was diagnosed with CF at 18 months, has been “in and out of the hospital enduring treatment” ever since. CF patients must also see their care team for follow up care every few months, a time consuming but completely necessary task.
Fortunately, there’s a wonderful network of hospitals with teams specifically trained to work with children. The Children’s Hospital Association is a group of over 200 hospitals throughout the nation that specialize in children’s care. At these facilities, the staff is trained to meet the unique needs of children and the specialized treatment methods that will help them heal.
When it comes to chronic illnesses, patients may need even more specialized care. For people living with CF like Ryan, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has a network of over 100 accredited care centers located throughout the United States. Accredited CF Care Centers are made up of physicians and other care team members who specialize in treating and managing cystic fibrosis so patients have an improved quality of life and extended life expectancy. This is especially important for inherited disorders such as CF that patients will be dealing with for their entire lives, starting with birth.
Other chronic illnesses also have specialized units, such as The Children’s Oncology Group. A unit present in over 200 children’s hospitals and other arenas, the COG provides pediatric cancer patients with specialty care and support to ensure they’re receiving the best possible treatment for their unique situations.
How to Help Children Living with Chronic Illnesses
As evidenced by the overwhelming public response to the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s NBC story back in 1983, people tend to want to help when they hear about a child dealing with a chronic, potentially life-threatening illness. There’s plenty of ways that you can do just that.
Even just within the Make-A-Wish Foundation, there are numerous ways in which everyone can get involved. You can make a one-time or monthly donation, donate specific items related to children’s wishes, or even donate airline miles to help children and their families travel to dream destinations. You can also attend a fundraising event in your community such as a Walk for Wishes. If you have the available funds and desire to do so, you can go so far as to sponsor a child, a gesture that will make a huge difference in the child and their family’s life. But, of course, every little bit helps, and you should feel no pressure to give more than you can. Even the smallest donation helps the foundation reach its goal of granting the wish for the tens of thousands of children living with life threatening illnesses. The Children’s Hospital Association has similar opportunities for people to donate or otherwise get involved with support and fundraising efforts.
In a perfect world, no child would have to deal with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. But until we get there, organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation help make the lives of these children just a little bit brighter.