For a seriously ill child, a dream come true can create the will to survive.
When a child is hit with a life-threatening illness, a family's world stops. The fear and anger can be overwhelming, not only for the child but for parents and siblings as well. Amid the chaos, however, there exist a handful of blessed lifelines: organizations devoted to fulfilling a sick child's cherished dream.
For years, the public has regarded groups like Make-A-Wish and Children's Hopes & Dreams as organizations that help a dying child's last wish become reality. That's often the case. But the wonderful news is that, as medical advances bring new hope to seriously ill kids, these groups have also become sources of strength in the fight for life. The fantasies they fulfill--a trip to a movie set, the chance to be a model-- nurture the hope these children and their families need to carry on. Meet four kids who faced critical illnesses, and, with the support of their families and the boost of a dream come true, have learned to embrace life and the future.
"There are too many kids with too many dreams unfulfilled," says Vic Franklin, founder of the Children's Hopes & Dreams Foundation of Dover, New Jersey. "This is a trying time for these families," explains Franklin, "the illness, money problems, other children in the family feeling left out. We find out what the child's dream is, then go about fulfilling that dream. Everybody focuses on the fact that dreams can come true."
Take the Valentine family of Lisle, Illinois, for example. By the time the second son, Marqus, was 7, he had had his spleen and gallbladder removed, contracted near-fatal cases of salmonella and blood poisoning, developed two small bowel obstructions and gone into respiratory failure following a bout with pneumonia. Marqus has sickle cell anemia, a painful, genetic disease primarily affecting people of African descent. The disease shortens the life of normal red blood cells and creates sickle-shaped cells that clog small blood vessels and prevent blood from circulating properly.
After years of Marqus's illness, the Valentines were strained to the limit. Marqus's father, Angelo, had lost several jobs due to absenteeism. His days were spent either at the hospital with Marqus or caring for the Valentines' infant daughter, Ashley. When Marqus's older brother, Kevin, was 4 years old, he felt so starved for attention that he asked if he too could have sickle-cell anemia, so his parents would love him more. "That was when I knew it was time for counseling. It was too much," recalls the boys' mother, Fran.
After years of struggling to meet the emotional needs of all her children, Fran asked Children's Hopes & Dreams for help. Marqus longed to meet "Ghostbusters" Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, so the organization arranged for the Valentines to visit the set of Ghostbusters flat Universal Studios in California.
Dan Aykroyd volunteered his trailer so that Marqus could nap when necessary. Bill Murray was especially fun--"he's a big-kid kind of person," says Fran. The crew equipped Marqus and his brother with proton packs and slime, along with figurines of Ghostbuster characters.
The five-day getaway helped the family revive a can-do attitude about Marqus's disease. "We never allow him to assume the sick role," says Fran. "I want him to be out playing, arguing with his friends."