The numbers are a bit shocking. Every other day, Make-A-Wish® Iowa grants a wish to a child with a life-threatening medical condition in Iowa. Since they began their work in 1987, more than 3,000 wishes have been granted in our state.
“People are very surprised when they hear those numbers,” said Jamie Rasko, Communications & Marketing Manager for Make-A-Wish Iowa, “but it’s a consistent statistic that continues to go up. Each year, more and more kids are being diagnosed with a medical condition that threatens their life, and we want to reach each and every one of them to offer hope, strength and joy to their family through the wish process.”
To be eligible for a wish, the child needs to be older than two-and-a-half and younger than eighteen at the time they are referred to Make-A-Wish and they need to have been diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.
“The criteria is pretty simple,” Rasko continued. “We don’t look at any other demographics, such as income. The medical conditions these children are dealing with impact their families greatly and we think it should be available to everyone who meets our criteria.”
One common misconception that the organization continues to educate the public about is that not all children who get a wish are terminal. One example of a local wish child is Zach Dudley of Shenandoah.
“Zach was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was only a year and a half old,” recalls his mother, Stephanie Dudley. “Today he looks like a healthy seventeen-year-old, but does vest treatments twice a day to break up mucous in his lungs and I think we counted that he takes 35 to 40 pills on a daily basis.”
“Last year when we were at the doctor’s office, the nurse asked Zach if he’d made his wish yet. We didn’t really even think he could have one, because he wasn’t sick. She explained that Zach was eligible because he was battling a medical condition that was threatening his life,” Dudley continued. “Zach wasn’t sure that he wanted to do the wish. I sat him down and told him it was completely up to him, but that this was his chance to do anything he wanted and he may not get that chance again. I didn’t hear anything from him after that, so I had assumed that he decided to not have his wish granted.”
Behind the scenes, Zach and his father, Mark, were busy, though. Zach had gone ahead with his referral to Make-A-Wish and decided to give his wish to his mom. They had always joked about going on a cruise together, but his mom didn’t want to go anywhere warm. Zach decided to take her and the family on an Alaskan cruise.
“On Mother’s Day, I got a little card from Zach and it just said, ‘I didn’t get you much, but how about a cruise to Alaska?’ that’s when I realized they had been working on this for a while,” remembers Stephanie Dudley. “I cried a lot. It was just so thoughtful.”
The Dudley family went on the wish in August, leaving the Omaha airport for Anchorage, Alaska, and then taking the train to the shoreline, where they got on the boat for their seven day cruise. Zach had chosen a cruise that involved a lot of time on shore during the day. The family did a lot of hiking, saw dolphins and whales and enjoyed outdoor activities in Alaska. Zach and his brother, Josh, even went zip-lining and snorkeling during their time away.
“My favorite memory of the experience were the waiters who served us each night at the formal dinner, they were just so friendly and nice,” said Stephanie Dudley. “For me, though, being together with my family was the best part. My older son is twenty now and the cost of Zach’s medications are pretty high. We haven’t been able to have our family together for a vacation in years.”
This weekend, southwest Iowa will come together to help more wishes like Zach’s come true at the Be a HERO. Walk for Wishes® event, sponsored by Blue Bunny® Ice Cream.
“We’ve done this event for a few years, but things are different this year. Blue Bunny Ice Cream came onboard as the presenting sponsor for $10,000, which is huge, and that’s created a lot more buzz,” said Rasko. “It’s going to be a great family event. The weather looks great, and we’re hoping the community shows up on Sunday morning to show both our families who have had a wish, and those who may be in the process of having their wish granted, that they support them and what they’re going through.”
The Walk for Wishes event will be on Sunday, September 20th at Iowa Western Community College (IWCC) and includes a 5K run on a paved course, a 1 or 3 mile walk around IWCC’s campus or kids can do a 1K Fun Run. Check-in and on-site registration will start at 8:30 a.m., the 1K Kids’ Fun Run at 9:30 a.m. and the rest of the events will start at 10:00 a.m.
There is a $25 registration fee for the 5K Run, but there are no fees to walk or do the Kids’ Fun Run. The group will also have face painting, clowns, balloon artists, a dunk tank and more activities for the whole family.
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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®.