When a 4-year-old Jamestown child battling a life threatening-disorder since birth wished for a pirate playhouse, his wish was granted.
Luke Kirschman, the son of Stacy and Jeremy Kirschman, now has a massive playset in his backyard thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Luke, who is diagnosed with a rare intestinal disorder called megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome, spends every moment he can playing on the set with his parents, his sister, Kaylen, and their two dogs, Marty and Lucy.
The idea for the playhouse came to Luke because he loves the Disney show "Jake and the Never Land Pirates." The first thing Luke thinks of when he wakes up in the morning, and the last thing he thinks of before he falls asleep, is playing on the playset, he said.
Luke Kirschman, 4, of Jamestown, is shown enjoying the playhouse that the Make-A-Wish foundation provided for him and his family: Stacy, mother; Jeremy, father; and Kaylen, sister.
P-J photo by Dusten Rader
"I wished for a playground, and it's a ship," said Luke. "We always play on it, every day, most of the day."
"It's huge, ginormous, and reaches all the way to the sky. When Daddy and I play on it we pretend we are pirates, and I'm always the captain of the ship," Luke continued.
Kaylen, Luke's 7-year-old sister, also has tons of fun with the playhouse, she said.
"It made me really happy," said Kaylen. "My favorite thing to do is to see how high I can go before saying, 'Help me, Daddy.'"
Although the wish was granted in 2011, Luke hadn't been healthy enough to fully enjoy it. He had many hospital visits and had been under anesthesia 22 times for surgeries. But, according to Kirschman, having the playset played an integral role in his son's physical therapy.
"The playset actually contributed to a lot of muscle rebuilding after his hospital stays," said Kirschman. "He was really bloated and didn't have a good sense of balance because of his core muscles. You lose 7 percent of your strength a day of bed rest, and he had been in the hospital for about a month before the playground was installed. So, right away he was getting a lot of rehab from playing."
"Luke has learned a lot of things from the playground, such as climbing stairs, which he didn't do until it was installed," said Mrs. Kirschman. "It's really convenient to have it in the backyard too, because he is on an IV for half of the day, which makes it really hard to go anywhere. It's wonderful for him to be able to just go outside and be active."
The Kirschmans were told that only 6 percent of children born with MMIHS live past the age of 1 without transplant. And, at 4-years-old, Luke is still on the waiting list.
"It seems like only yesterday that we were concerned about whether he would ever even crawl," said Kirschman. "He was way behind, and didn't even start walking until he was 2. But, now he is a wild man."
The three visions that the Make-A-Wish foundation strives to bring to families are hope, strength and joy. And, those are things that the Kirschmans feel the foundation has brought them.
"When you're going through something like this, you feel left alone," said Kirschman. "So, Make-A-Wish reached out and did something nice that we wouldn't have been able to do on our own. It was also nice because there was little to no work involved for us, because Make-A-Wish did everything. It gives you a positive feeling, and makes you not feel so alone anymore."
"The wish experience is awesome," added Mrs. Kirschman.
When a child faces a life-threatening medical condition, both the child and the family could benefit from having one of their child's dreams come true.
According to Cheryl Unger, director of program services for the Make-A-Wish Buffalo branch, the goal of the foundation is to provide a lasting, positive impact wish to every eligible child.
"It's amazing what it does for the kids," said Unger. "It's something different for each child. Sometimes they wish for special family time, or to have some relaxation in between treatments, and some wish for something that they will have always. But, it has such a personal impact for each individual family. Families have come back and told us that the child walked sooner than expected because they insisted that they were going to walk on their wish. We also had a little girl say her name for the first time to a princess when she was at Disney. The wishes really are powerful."
Of the more than 2,000 wishes granted in the Western New York area over the years, which includes a 17-county radius, just under 8 percent live in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties. But, according to Unger, the percentage of volunteers in the two counties is a lot less. With more volunteers in the Southern Tier communities, the foundation has a better chance of accomplishing its goal of reaching each and every eligible child to grant their most heartfelt wish, she said. Volunteers can serve as wish granters, wish story writers, speakers, special event volunteers or work as office volunteers.
"We really rely on our volunteers because we grant over 155 wishes a year," said Unger. "We really could use more volunteer and community support to make sure we're reaching every referred child."
Wish referrals are made by parents or guardians, members of the medical community or children themselves. Medical eligibility is determined by the child's primary care physician, who must sign a medical authorization form. The foundation serves children between the ages of 2 and under the age of 18 at the time of referral. As long as a child is determined eligible before the age of 18, the wish can be granted up until before they turn 21.
"Every medically eligible child will receive a wish, and there is no waiting list," said Unger. "If you think you know a child who may qualify, it doesn't take very long to make a referral."
The funding for the foundation comes from individual contributions, special events, corporate donations and sponsorships, foundation grants, workplace giving programs, and planned gifts.