In the United States, .5% of children have what are considered to be complex or high special medical health care needs. These are kids with more than one on-going, chronic and sometimes life-threatening condition. The world of high and complex medical needs is not one that most people ever get to see. Because my oldest daughter has a rare white blood cell disorder along with autism, developmental disabilities, migraines and vision problems, she is included in this population. So although none of her conditions are immediately or directly life-threatening as long as they are treated, we have spent more time than most in the waiting rooms, doctor offices, and hospitals along with the kids who get their wishes granted by the Make A Wish Foundation.
One summer a few years ago we got to know a very special family when we hosted weekly BBQs for our local autism group. Their son, Kreed, was a Make A Wish kid. I’m not sure that I ever fully understood all of the complications of Kreed’s condition, but he was a spunky teenager with bright eyes, adorable dimples and an infectious smile that spread faster than a flu bug in a preschool classroom. He loved jumping on our trampoline with my girls. He loved getting down on the floor and playing with our golden retrievers. He was also completely non-verbal, communicated with an iPad, and had spent most of his life in and out of hospitals and in a lot of pain.
I spoke with one of Kreed’s moms recently about the Wish experience and what it did both for Kreed and their whole family. Kreed’s wish was to go to Disneyland. Up to that point in his life, he had never been on an airplane. Part of his condition involves a tendency for his blood to pool painfully in his legs and feet, rendering him unable to walk and function for extended periods of time. They had never risked taking him on an airplane because of fears of what the elevation might do. Thanks to the Make A Wish Foundation they were able to take the flight with medical staff on hand and what they discovered is not only could Kreed function at elevation, his condition was better. This eventually prompted the family to move from sea level elevation in Phoenix, AZ first to Flagstaff at 7000 feet, then to the even higher mountains of Colorado where Kreed was able to live in more comfort and less pain for the remainder of his life. So not only was the trip to Disneyland one of the happiest of his life, the trip also gave the family information to make the rest of his life happier, more comfortable, and possibly even longer than it would have been otherwise.
The story of the Make A Wish Foundation is a fascinating and moving one. I recently had the chance to interview Greg Reid from the Napoleon Hill Foundation, who has taken on the project of making a full-length feature film about the life of Frank Shankwitz, one of the original founders.
When I asked Greg how he got involved in this project he related the following conversation:
At the end of their interview, Greg asked Frank, “By the way, what was your wish?”
“What are you talking about?” Frank replied.
Greg pressed on, “Well, you’re the founder of Make A Wish. So what was your wish?”
Frank raised his eyebrows then said, “No one ever asked me.”
Greg was determined. He said, “Whatever your wish is, I’m gonna grant it.”
After pausing to think Frank said, “I just want my story to be told so my grandkids know I did something cool.”
That conversation occurred 4 years ago. On September 11, 2017, Greg flew to Prescott, AZ to start filming for the full-length feature film based on Frank’s life. The film, Wish Man, follows Frank throughout his life from growing up in Seligman, AZ, to attending Junior High and High School in Prescott, to joining the Air Force, and eventually becoming part of a 10 man motorcycle team for the Arizona Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol.
It was during his time as part of this elite motorcycle team that he and a group of his fellow officers became aware of a 7-year-old boy named Chris who always dreamed of being a motorcycle cop like Ponch and John from CHiPs when he grew up. Chris was in the late stages of leukemia and was never going to get the chance to grow up. So Frank, his fellow officers and his director at DPS moved mountains to make Chris’ wish come true. They had a uniform custom made in his size with badges, and a helmet. A DPS helicopter transported him to headquarters where a small motorized motorcycle was waiting for Chris to drive it through cones to earn his Motorcycle Wings and he was made the first and only Honorary Arizona Highway Patrol Officer in the history of the Arizona Highway Patrol.
Shortly after this grand adventure, Chris passed away with his motorcycle wings in his hand. He was given the funeral of fallen officer buried will full police honors. Frank Shankwitz lead the procession on his motorcycle.
In 1980 Frank, his wife Kitty and several others officially founded the Make A Wish Foundation. Frank was the first President and oversaw the foundation getting non-profit status, accepting their first donations and granting their first wish as a new nonprofit. Since that time the organization has incorporated, branched out, shifted and grown massively and Frank is no longer directly involved. But the movement he started has to this day granted more than 285,000 wishes of children who had little to no chance of achieving their dreams on their own during their short lives.
Frank Shankwitz and his wife will be on hand for the filming of The Wish Man on location in Prescott, AZ this fall. You can find more information about the film here.