Seven-year-old Maddy French was frolicking with her brother, Myles, 11, and sister Addisen 6, when I arrived at her Wellington home, camera in hand, just as darkness was descending on a cold snowy night last week. Because the event of the evening had been kept secret, Maddy, whose long brown hair sports a fashionable red streak, wondered what in the world I was doing there. It was a little hard to explain.
I mumbled a few words and then we fell into a discussion about books and who likes to read what. In a few minutes, the doorbell rang and Carol and Gene Gentry appeared, struggling under a load of gifts, balloons and a dazzling display of blue and white cupcakes decorated with fancy frosting and plastic sea creatures. They had arrived to deliver an itinerary, and a whole lot more.
Maddy and her family will board a plane for Florida in the next few days, to spend their spring break at Discovery Cove where sea life abounds and dolphins will welcome a little girl more than ready to swim with them. In order to be sure she’s prepared, the Gentrys came bearing an underwater camera, a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen, a beach towel and water bottle imprinted with “Make-A-Wish” foundation.
The Gentrys have been Make-A-Wish volunteers for fourteen years now, ever since their granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia. They are involved with the entire process from interviewing candidates to attending to the details that make a child’s dream come true.
Established to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions, the organzation is committed to enriching the human experience with hope, strength and joy. It is financed by corporate sponsors, foundations, service clubs, fundraisers and individual contributions.
The Colorado chapter was one of the nation’s first, founded in 1983. Today there are 62 US chapters and 35 international affiliates. Twenty-five thousand volunteers deliver wish packages to more than 15,000 recipients every year. Make-A-Wish Colorado has granted more than 4,400 wishes to Colorado children.
Madelynne (Maddy) French was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at 23 weeks gestation and underwent her first surgery six days after her birth. Five procedures followed, two of them open heart surgeries, necessary for her survival and with frightening odds — a survival rate of three out of four. Congenital heart defects occur in one out of every 100 births. More children die of birth defects than from all childhood cancers combined.
Her mom, Melissa, a substitute teacher in Wellington elementary schools, describes Maddy as an easy-going happy child who loves fashion, Girl Scouts, sea-life, (especially dolphins and sharks) music and singing. She’s ready to jump in the water and swim whenever the occasion presents itself. “This is an occasion of pure joy,” she said referring to the upcoming Make-A-Wish adventure.
A “Wish” study in 2011 revealed the impact of these wish fulfillments. Recipients grew in emotional strength, were more willing to comply with treatment, and families became stronger. Parents saw the experience as a turning point in their children’s battles with illness and welcomed the opportunity to be a “normal” family again. Former wish recipients saw the experience as a turning point in their recovery and believe the experience contributed to saving their lives. Volunteer Carol and Gene Gentry’s granddaughter, Caitlyn, recovered from leukemia and is now a healthy 21-year-old.
Children’s wishes often involve travel—to places like Hawaii and Disney World. Some choose a shopping spree, room makeover, computer or big screen TV. Others want to meet a favorite celebrity, still others choose to spend a day as a model, princess or super hero. Whatever they choose, the opportunity to escape from medical concerns works a special magic for them.
Doctors say that Maddy’s activities need to be restricted only by what she discovers she’s not able to do. High altitude and temperature can slow her down some, but she won’t be thinking about either when she slips into the warm water of Discovery Bay to be greeted by a friendly dolphin. And mom and dad, Myles and Addisen, will be along to join in the fun which will include at day at Disney World and a seven-hour VIP tour of Sea World.