The organization grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Recently, the Iowa Chapter of Make-A-Wish reached a huge milestone in granting its 3,000th wish.
“We’ve reached the 3,000 mark, which is huge for our local chapter,” said Chris Voggesser, CEO and President of Make-A-Wish Iowa. “It’s important to remember, though, that each wish is a milestone for our wish kids. For some, it marks a bright spot in the middle of some difficult years of treatments and hospital stays. For others, it marks the end of treatment and winning a medical battle they didn’t want to fight.”
On average, the Iowa Chapter grants a wish every other day - they are tasked with granting 185 wishes in their current fiscal year. Wishes generally fall into four basic categories: to have something, to meet someone, to go somewhere or to be someone.
Snapshot of a Wish: Mackenzie Walker
“We took her to the doctor for a cough that wouldn’t get better. Hours later we were at the University of Iowa learning that our daughter has Hodgkin’s disease,” recalls Carolyn Walker of Center Point, Iowa. Early last March her fourteen-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, began her battle against cancer, just as they were getting ready to move into a house they had been building.
“It was really difficult and everything was happening so fast,” said Carolyn. “I had to be brave and it was really scary. We’ve never had anyone in our family have cancer – we knew it was out there, but never thought we would have to deal with it. Not knowing what to expect was really hard.”
Chemotherapy started the same week as her diagnosis. Mackenzie received a three-day treatment every three weeks to battle the tumor that had grown to the size of a football inside of her. During these months, the family supported Mackenzie, including her two sisters and brother, who came to the hospital every day she was there.
Early in the process, John Werner, a social worker at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital gave the family information about Make-A-Wish Iowa, and told them that Mackenzie’s diagnosis would make her eligible for a wish.
“Receiving a referral from a medical provider is very common,” shared Rachel Reams, Director of Operations at Make-A-Wish Iowa. “Medical professionals across Iowa contact us about patients that may be eligible for a wish. The University of Iowa Children’s Hospital makes referrals to us often and we’re thankful for the partnership we have with them.” Reams noted that referrals can also come from a family member or the child who is sick.
Mackenzie didn’t think she deserved a wish, but was excited about the prospect of having one. When Angie Corcoran, one of her volunteer wish granters, met with her, she knew exactly what her wish would be. “I wanted to go to Hawaii and see the blue water. I like to dance and wanted to go to a luau and learn how to hula,” said Mackenzie. Mackenzie was sure of one more thing: she wanted to be finished with her treatment before the wish happened.
Mackenzie shared that while going through treatment, she was able to look forward to her Hawaii wish and it gave her more confidence. She knew she could finish treatment and when it was over, she and her family would be in Hawaii celebrating the end of an unexpected journey. While she was busy fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Make-A-Wish Iowa was busy planning her wish to go to Hawaii.
Mackenzie’s last chemotherapy treatment was September 8th. “She still has to have checks regularly, but we’re done with treatment – no radiation and no more chemotherapy,” said Carolyn.
Less than two months later, her family of six boarded a plane and headed out to make Mackenzie’s wish a reality. The family landed in Maui for their week-long trip and was greeted with flower leis. While there, they experienced Hawaii in every way they could.
Skyline Eco Adventures took them on the Haleakala Skyline Tour, which combined a half-mile forest hike with five ziplines that took the family over gulches and through trees. Maui Classic Charters took the family out for a snorkeling adventure and a glass bottom boat ride.
Later, the family got to go to the Drums of the Pacific Luau where Mackenzie, her mom and two sisters were greeted with flower leis and her dad and brother received shell leis. There they enjoyed Hawaiian music, hula lessons, poi ball lessons, coconut tree climbing and a dinner that included Polynesian food and more entertainment.
“I loved the luau,” remembered Mackenzie. “There were hula dancers and guys twirling fire sticks. It was so cool to get to do things we can’t do in Iowa, like surfing, zip lining and snorkeling.” The entire family took part and even got a brief lesson in surfing from Big Kahuna Adventures. All of the kids were able to get up on the board, but it was a little more difficult for her parents.
“I think my favorite part was watching the kids surfing and having fun together,” remembers Carolyn. “The scenery was beautiful, of course, so we had family photos taken there – I think that and zip lining were my favorite memories from the trip.”
“This experience of going through cancer has had a big impact on our whole family. It’s changed us. Our kids are more loving toward each other and there’s definitely more awareness of life,” said Carolyn.
“An important part of our work is to be life-affirming,” said Voggesser. “We are dedicated to making every eligible child’s wish come true. We approach our mission with life-affirming enthusiasm and we love developing these wishes, watching them become a reality in the lives of our wish families.”
Wishes are making a real difference. A wish come true helps children feel stronger, more energetic, more willing and able to battle their life-threatening medical conditions. For many of them, it marks a turning point in their fight against their illnesses. For their doctors, nurses and other health professionals, the wish experience works in concert with medicine to make their patients feel better, emotionally and even physically.
“Each wish we get to be part of is humbling,” said Voggesser. “It’s an honor to be part of such an important time in the lives of these families.”
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About Make-A-Wish® Iowa
Make-A-Wish® Iowa grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. The Foundation has granted wishes to more than 3,000 children with life-threatening medical conditions since 1987 and currently grants a wish every other day in Iowa. To find out more, visit iowa.wish.org. Share the Power of a Wish®.