We all have a dream and hopes of making that dream a reality. Someday. What if you are a child with a life threatening illness and told Someday may never come. There are only hospitals and doctors and frantic parents and people looking on with sad eyes. You will never ride the roller coaster at Disney World, or see a Twins game, or swim in the Pacific Ocean. What if one day you woke up to find wishes really do come true? Phil and Kristi Seehafer of Milbank make wishes and dreams a reality. They are both wish granters for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The Seehafers work with the Minnesota chapter because Kristi’s son, Brennan, was diagnosed with cancer in July 2004 and passed away in June 2005. He spent most of the time he was ill in Rochester, Minnesota. His dream, though, was to go to Disney World. When Brennan suffered a relapse that May, Make-A-Wish responded. Within a week, Brennan’s wish was granted and he, his parents, and his brother Sean were on their way to Florida. “His was considered a rush wish,” Kristi explained. “Those wishes are heartbreaking, but because I experienced that firsthand, I feel I am able to help other families make their situation the best it can be.”
In 2005, after Brennan’s death, Kristi accepted the call to be a wish granter and has helped fulfill 38 wishes. She is now working on three more. Her husband, Phil, also became a wish granter and has helped her with 23 wishes. “Kristi was a wish granter when I met her,” he said. “Instantly, I saw her compassion for these families. It’s such an amazing foundation and I love working in it alongside her.”
The sky is the limit when it comes to wishes. “Well, almost,” Kristi said. “Most importantly, the family gets to leave reality for a time with no worries and no expense. Their travel, lodging, rental cars, and tickets for games or parks are paid along with gas, food, and every other expense you can think of.”
According to Kristi, Disney trips are the most popular, but she has fulfilled Hawaiian vacations, a tour of Pearl Harbor, a South African photo safari, a Mall of American shopping spree, a snorkeling excursion to New Zealand, and a day at a Major League Baseball All-Star game, where the young boy shagged balls during the Home Run Derby. “They all bring tears to my eyes,” she said.
The inspiration for Make-A-Wish came in 1980. Seven year-old Christopher Greicius was battling leukemia. His dream was to grow up to be a policeman. A U.S. Customs Inspector, Thomas Austin, befriended Christopher and enlisted his colleagues at the Arizona Department of Public Safety to simulate the young boy’s dream. Christopher, not only spent the day as a police officer, he rode in a police helicopter, wore a custom-tailored police uniform, and was sworn in as the first honorary patrolman in Arizona history. Greicius died soon after, but Make-A-Wish lives on.
Tyson Karsky will now have his dream come true. Tyson is a high school student at Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley who suffers from PNH (paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria), aplastic anemia, and ITP (immune thrombocytopenic purpura). At a surprise presentation, the Seehafers recently revealed his wish of an Ice Castle Fish House. Shaunna, Tyson’s mother, knew about the surprise. “It was hard keeping the secret,” Shaunna admitted. “But, when we saw the tears in his eyes it was worth it.”
“For a high school kid, he was speechless,” Kristi said. “The surprise presentations – those are so much fun!” Now, Tyson is in the process of helping to design the ice house and looking forward to winter fishing. His mom said, “He got into fishing a few years ago with the rest of the family. He’s so excited to go.” She has been working with the Seehafers for the past four or five months and said, “We have built a nice relationship.”
The average time it takes to fulfill a wish is six to eight months, but Kristi noted it depends on the wish and the timing of everything. “Disney trips are typically the quickest, but we also have to consider the time of year and how the child is doing when the wish is ready.” Doctors work closely with the foundation and must give their permission for travel. “Wishes also don’t take place during holidays or high peak travel times.” Rush wishes can be the exception she said. “A rush wish happens when a child is not doing well or they have a relapse. We have done only a couple rush wishes.”
How are children chosen for Make-A-Wish? Doctors, nurses, social workers, and even family members refer them. The process, of course, involves telephone calls, interviews, and paperwork. During the time between when the wish is granted and when all the arrangements are finalized, the wish granters become very involved with the families. “We plan enhancements for the children along the way,” Kristi said. ” I do things like a countdown chain or trivia games- fun things to keep them excited and make the time pass faster. We build such a relationship with them. It’s amazing.”
All of the children the Seehafers have worked with received their wishes. “These kids go through a lot and never complain,” Kristi said. “The wishes really help them get through everything they are dealing with.”
Make-A-Wish of Minnesota grants 320 to 340 wishes per year. Each Minnesota wish costs an average of $6500. Donations are accepted through the foundation with a majority of the money going directly to the children. John Cena, actor and professional wrestler, holds the title for the most wishes granted by an individual – over 500. Singer, Justin Bieber, has volunteered in over 250. But, Phil and Kristi, who own Seehafer Ace Hardware in Milbank, know every dollar can make a difference. They installed a large popcorn maker in their store and every day the popcorn scent wafts through their store making it feel homey and inviting to their customers. The popcorn has no price. You could say it is priceless, because it is sold by donation and all the money goes to Make-A-Wish. “We volunteer our time to this worthy cause,” expressed Kristi. “We put in a lot of hours, but it is so worth it to see the smiles on the children’s faces. I couldn’t think of any better way to give of our time. Phil, our son Sean, and I are a Make-A-Wish family that gives back to Make-A-Wish.”
The next time you stop in to Ace Hardware for a box of nails or a new rake, grab a bag of popcorn. It will taste even better knowing your donation will go to Make-A-Wish and help the dream of a sick child come true.