PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — When people are happier, they tend to be healthier. It may read like an oversimplification of what we all probably accept as a fact: When people feel better, they are better.
When Make-A-Wish was founded in 1980, it set out to give terminally ill children a once-in-a lifetime experience before they died. By the time the Oregon chapter of Make-A-Wish was established in 1983, the mission had evolved.
“Very early on the organizers realized that a wish was truly, powerful medicine,” said Make-A-Wish Oregon PR Manager Kaitlyn Bolduc. “In many ways, (the wish) can be a catalyst toward better health. So, that was expanded to help kids with critical illnesses.”
Over the last 37 years, Make-A-Wish Oregon has arranged more than 4,300 amazing experiences to very deserving children. They have sent them to Disneyland and professional sporting events. They made sure a little girl saw her best friend for what could be the last time, and they helped another little girl meet Hillary Clinton.
Through thousands of wishes, the idea that the wish itself was partially responsible for helping kids heal, grew.
“What we really need is for them to be happy and engage with life, be able to finish school, get a job and enjoy life,” said Dr. Randall Jenkins who treats kidney disorders at OHSU. “That’s really the goal.
“Part of Make-A-Wish is to try to help. Because sometimes, actually, the medical part seems like the easiest part. Getting people through the worries and depression and anxiety, that actually can be more challenging than just getting the right medicine,” he added.
Dr. Michael Powers, head of the Pediatric Pulmonary Division at OHSU, says that anecdotally, the concept of “no health without mental health” makes total sense.
“The challenges are still there to treat them, but it gives them goals and targets,” he said. “It gives them something to strive for. In the end, it helps them wanting to be their best. If they’re not mentally healthy, they cannot be physically healthy. Make-A-Wish helps improve the mental health of our patients.”
Correlation and causation are different. Proof of a connection between the Make-A-Wish program and the improved health of patients was only anecdotal, until the research of Dr. Anup Patel was published late in 2018.
Patel’s research, which you can read here, looked at the direct benefits of receiving wishes and how, based on his results, it decreases the time a child spends in the hospital. In effect, Patel proved that Make-A-Wish was, indeed, improving the lives of Wish Kids and that hope was, indeed, a powerful weapon in the fight against childhood disease.
That’s the story the KOIN Digital team set out to tell.
Along the way, we met Wish Kids and their families, heard from the medical professionals who have dedicated their lives to helping sick kids heal and learned, in many different ways, about the power of hope.
A time for Hope
Jamie Morris had just turned 13 when her little sister Katie was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma astrocytoma multiforme and given six months to live.
“I was very angry with the world,” Jamie said. “Someone that was so full of life, and so just genuinely good my sister would get literally give you the shirt off of her back. She was the most selfless person I knew, I have known.”
Before Katie Morris died Make-A-Wish Oregon granted her, the entire Morris family and Katie’s entire youth baseball team a trip to Seattle to take in a Mariners game, meet some of the players and run the bases.
A few years later and half a world away, Dana Campbell was born in Mongolia with spina bifida. She spent the first decade of her life in a Chinese orphanage with her best friend, Nixon.
After she was adopted by a family in Oregon, she suffered a shunt malfunction which resulted in severe brain damage.
This past spring, Make-A-Wish Oregon granted Dana’s wish to be reunited with Nixon.
“They love each other so much,” Dana’s mom Janie said. “The relief for Nixon of seeing Dana. Because, you know, when Dana got really sick, he was so worried about her. And, the fact that he could see his friend and know, for the moment, that Dana is ok.”
Listen to The Power of Hope – Part One: A Time for Hope below. You’ll hear the connection between Dana Campbell and Jamie Morris and how hope can help heal even the worst wounds.
The Science of Hope
Dr. Anup Patel didn’t say the name of the Wish Kid that set him out on a journey to prove the power of a Make-A-Wish.
What he did say is that the young man was suffering seizures so bad he was struggling in school, not able to participate in sports and mad that he couldn’t be the older brother he wanted to be.
That is, until Make-A-Wish came calling and granted him a trip to Los Angeles to see the sights, take in an NBA game and meet a few celebrities along the way.
“That was like seven, eight years ago now and he is seizure-free to this day,” Dr. Patel said. “He’s an adult and he’s not even on any medicines.”
Patel’s experience that one patient, and others, led him down a path of a first-of-its kind research project on the Make-A-Wish program and the long-lasting health effects for Wish Kids.
And, while Patel also won’t say his study conclusively proved the power of hope, the research project did prove there are significant scientific, medical and financial benefits to Make-A-Wish.
Listen below to hear The Power of Hope – Part Two: The Science of Hope. You’ll hear what Patel and his research team were able to prove and, based on the results of his study, what he wants to research next.
A Mission of Hope
This coming year, Make-A-Wish will celebrate its 40th Anniversary. Since its inception in 1980, the non-profit organization has granted more than 330,000 wishes worldwide to children battling life-altering or life-threatening diseases.
None of that which be possible without the thousands of Make-A-Wish volunteers, donors and dedicated employees who make it their mission to help kids.
“It’s definitely a wish for the patient,” said OHSU Child Life Specialist Susan Sherwood. “But, sometimes the entire family is affected. For us to see and hear about the stuff that really buoys their spirits and brings the family together… How can that not boost your own spirits when you witness to that?”
Click below to hear The Power of Hope – Part Three: A Mission of Hope. You’ll hear what inspires Make-A-Wish Oregon employees to do everything they can to make wishes come true and how granted wishes can bring families, communities and treatment teams together at a time when a child needs it the most.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that relies solely on the generosity of the community to grant local wishes. The organization’s greatest need is the support of its general fund. Currently, there are 217 local children living in Oregon and Southwest Washington who are waiting to experience the healing power of a wish come true, and you can be a part of making that happen. Visit oregon.wish.org/give to donate today.
The Power of Hope wouldn’t have been possible without an amazing partnership with Kaitlyn Bolduc at Make-a-Wish and Tracey Brawley from OHSU.
In addition, special thanks must go out to Jamie Morris, Janie Campbell, Alysia Smith, Dr. Anup Patel and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Dr. Michael Powers, Susan Sherwood, Dr. Lissa Baird, Dr. Randall Jenkins, Kathy Perko and Dr. Nameeta Richard.
Additional contributions to this project came from Kaitlin Flanigan, Mike Moore, Shuly Wasserstrom, Jenny Hansson and Melanie Costello.