Every 34 minutes, a child suffering from a life-threatening medical condition is given the opportunity of a lifetime. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, children are given experiences called "wishes" to return a bit of the childhood that illness has savagely robbed of them.
Some wishes are fairly standard like a trip to Walt Disney World or meeting The Rock, and while they are rewarding in their own right, there are some wish children out there that refuse to settle for anything less than the most hardcore, creative or flat-out spectacular wishes their little imaginations could ever conjure up.
These are the very real stories of some pretty creative people coming together to make a pretty creative child's wish come true.
Most Make-A-Wish wishes fall under a select few categories: I wish to be, I wish to have, I wish to meet, I wish to go, and I wish to give. While some rare exceptions may arise here and there, it's a safe bet that most wish children choose these categories to imagine the wish they'd like to receive. Wanting to do the very thing all beings with both the X and Y chromosomes aspire to do, 7 year old Max Hinton was that aforementioned exception when claiming his wish was "to blow something up."
Diagnosed with stage-four neuroblastoma cancer at the age of 6, Max spent a lot of his time during treatment watching his favorite show, the documentary-style science-based "MythBusters." But out of the show's nearly 300 episode run, no episode left an impact on the little guy quite like the season 7 episode "Knock Your Socks Off."
Testing the theory of detonating explosives to produce a shockwave so intense it could literally knock a human being's socks off, the image of a devastating explosion was pure eye-candy to Max, resulting in the planning of his wish.
On January 9th, 2012, Max was sent to Huron, Ohio to partake in the decimation of an abandoned grain mill on Huron's river side. Apparently an eye-sore to the locals, 40,000 citizens showed up to the deconstruction site to support Max as well as cheer for the building's destruction.
After Max and a team of demolition experts hid the explosives around the building, a quick " fire in the hole" and a push of a button led to the massive grain mill toppling over in a visually satisfying spectacle that every town local cheered for and any 7-year-old boy could ever dream of. With a cloud of ash and debris now settling where a building once stood moments ago, Max beamed with pride as his thirst for devastating destruction was quenched.
Max Hinton would later go on to beat his cancer and live happily with his family in Clovis, California. He still watches "Mythbusters," but claims " it isn't as cool as the real thing." He can probably be found now on the playground, gliding on his wheelie shoes, using the line "yeah, I blew up a building" to do pretty well with the elementary school girls.
While most little boys can be found jumping out of trees or pretending to stop alien pirates from assassinating the queen, 11 year old Carl had interests elsewhere. While the other kids in his class looked up to superheroes and Indiana Jones as their pretend pals, Carl's imagination relied more so on the actual battles of good and evil found in history. It was the bravery of real world heroes that Carl had modeled his own moral compass after, and when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, it was what inspired Carl to continue to fight for his own survival.
When the Alaska and Washington chapters of Make-A-Wish approached Carl, it was safe to expect another "boy" wish involving the likes of superheroes, fast cars or explosions. So when Carl took a deep breath and confidently claimed he'd wished to be a World War II pilot that would be shot down and forced to survive on an island behind enemy lines with only the supplies a real WW II pilot would have, the stunned Make-A-Wish volunteers immediately began planning with the one question everybody had on their mind: just how on earth could this be even remotely possible?
The wish was presented in three parts with the first surrounding survivalist training and flight prep. Carl prepared for his wish at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Air Force Base where he would be taught by real soldiers to endure flight simulation as well as learning how to make shelter and build fires. The second part of the wish began the following day with the family flying into Hawaii where a team of Marines was waiting in formation at the gate upon arrival.
After an initial meeting, Carl and his family were then taken to the USS Missouri where legitimate WW II era uniforms and gear awaited them. With tours of the battleship as well as an intimate flag ceremony dedicated to Carl, the day ended with Carl and the family spending the night on the ship, hoping to get some much-needed rest before the grueling hours of combat the following day.
The next day presented the final and most important bulk of Carl's wish: the actual wish itself. After an early morning escort to an airport, Carl and a pilot climbed aboard an authentic Stearman Biplane and took to the skies above Hawaii for an hour or two.
It was during this peaceful flight that the pilot turned off the engine mid-air--no, seriously--and Carl proceeded to spiral out of control, plummeting thousands of feet before the pilot returned power and landed safely back on the tarmac, simulating a forced landing from enemy takedown. With the rush of adrenaline from a simulation of an event literally known for murdering people, Carl jumped out of the plane cackling with delight before a fellow soldier came up from behind Carl, blindfolding him and putting him in a boat that would take him to an island where his plane had just "crash landed."
Accompanied only by his father James, Carl used the skills he learned in his survival training to scavenge for berries, sharpen sticks for weaponry, and pitch a tent made out of the parachutes the two had with them in their uniforms. Carl's wish insisted his journey be one devoted to survival so Make-A-Wish complied by leaving the two completely stranded on the island overnight. No, seriously.
It wasn't until the following day did a real Navy SEAL team locate Carl and his dad. With divers emerging from the ocean, they rushed the beach to bring aid to Carl and James by catching fish and bringing supplies. Cal and James were "rescued" and things seemed to be going a-okay...that was until a simulated attack by insurgents--with Marines playing the roles--occurred in the jungles on the way out of the island.
With Carl being the primary target, the SEALS had to extract Carl and return him back home while avoiding the barrage of fake gunfire. With the combination of teamwork and survivalist skills, the SEALS and Carl were able to make it out alive and on a boat that would return back to base.
When looking back on his wish, his mother Heidi had this to say,
"The whole survivor theme was really interesting to us. That he picked this wish that was about surviving in a completely different way than surviving a diagnosis of leukemia. He's a survivor in so many ways."
At the time of his wish, Carl was only in his first of three years of chemotherapy. While still currently in treatment, he's vowed to vanquish his cancer once and for all, citing his real life battle for survival as a profound metaphor for his illness.
After falling out of the sky in a crashing plane, staying overnight on a deserted island, and running through bullets in an open jungle, Carl's acute lymphoblastic leukemia is going to have a tough time hanging on. Carl is one tough kid and he won't go down without a fight.
Perhaps the most famous story to come out of the foundation's history rests on the tiny shoulders of five-year-old Batman mega fan Miles Scott, as well as the billions of people he touched. Yes, that was "billions" with a Batman "B" as Miles' simple wish of being the real life Batman quickly escalated into a must-be-seen-to-be-believed adventure that shut down the city of San Fransico, crashed the Make-A-Wish official social medias, and enlisted the help of tens of thousands of excited volunteers.
But let's back up a bit.
At a little over a year old, Miles was diagnosed with leukemia. With months of chemo treatment, blood transfusions, surgeries, and medication, Miles' health continued to waver. Unlike his health, however, Miles' obsession with Batman did not waver. So when Make-A-Wish met with Miles to discuss his wish, Miles quickly jumped at the opportunity to "be the real Batman" without a moment's hesitation.
Headed by Patricia Wilson of the Make-A-Wish San Francisco chapter, the original idea of Miles--as Batman--"saving" a small San Francisco street disguised as Gotham City from random Batman villains causing shenanigans was a solid one. That was until the project went viral and gained global attention.
With the support of billions around the world, the project expanded into a historic event the likes of which we've yet to see since. The one San Fransico street turned into a couple of blocks. Those couple of blocks then turned into a couple of miles. Those couple of miles turned into the entire city.
The proposed budget of a mere couple thousands of dollars skyrocketed into an undisclosed number some have speculated at least tripled that.
The original guest list of 200-300 for the City Hall finale was transformed into an unprecedented 20,000+ people in attendance.
Beginning at 9 AM, real news anchor of San Fransico's ABC7 News Ama Daetz broke the news that real San Fransico police chief Greg Suhr is calling out Batman to help save a damsel in distress from an out of control cable car sabotaged by The Riddler. With Miles watching this announcement, a knock at the door was heard and a Make-A-Wish volunteer in a Batman suit walked in to present Miles his own suit and to take on the role as The Batkid.
A wide eyed Miles excitedly put on his suit, walked with Batman downstairs where the Batmobile awaited him to transport Miles to the first of numerous missions that day. With Miles safely secure inside, the Batmobile rounded the corner to tens of thousands lining the streets to cheer Miles on, while billions watched from social media to see what would happen next.
To reveal any more details about this very intricate story would be doing it the harshest of injustices. The sheer scope of this event is one that must be seen to be believed and no amount of words can even adequately describe this monumental achievement. Below is the trailer for the immensely entertaining and profoundly emotional documentary detailing this story "Batkid Begins." Watch it and then watch the film currently streaming on Netflix. You'll be glad you did.
For just a temporary moment, Miles' wish had brought together an entire city as well as uniting the entire planet for a story of unflinching hope highlighting the true good of humanity. Miles Scott ended up conquering his leukemia and continues to be a daily reminder that the legend of the Batkid remains the warmest memory to anyone involved as well as those celebrating from afar. Miles saving Gotham might have been fake, but it is true that Miles did save the world that day... exactly like the real Batman.
The most wrenching aspect of being involved with Make-A-Wish is the extreme pressure to go above and beyond to return the hope, strength, and joy an illness has robbed a family of. This pressure was amplified to an extreme degree when the good folks at the Middle Tennessee Make-A-Wish chapter were introduced to
Diagnosed with leukemia and a devastating infection in his arm, Alby was physically incapable of walking or even eating on his own months before Make-A-Wish had arrived. With the little boy attached to an uncountable number of medical devices, Alby's strength was depleting quickly as the fight within him had long since died out.
“For a period of time in the hospital, he would beg me to let him die," said his mother Barbara.
With a mother forced to hear her own child plead for death, the Tennessee Make-A-Wish volunteers quickly realized the high-stakes this situation called for. With a constant reminder of the child's hopelessness, the concept of granting a wish was immediately replaced with the intentions of restoring hope.
During one of the meetings Make-A-Wish had with Alby, he had let it slip his love of pirates. Understanding the utmost importance of this little detail, Make-A-Wish set off on arguably the most important mission they had ever been associated with to give Alby a fighting chance at bringing back the hope he'd need to survive just a bit longer.
After months of careful planning and meticulous design, the volunteers finally put everything together. When Alby was healthy enough to partake, the wish would go down a little something like this: Alby and his family would fly to the Caribbean islands of St. Thomas and St. John. After checking into a luxurious sea-side resort, a transport would take he and his family zip lining above the rainforest canopy followed by kayaking, paddle boarding, and lounging on the beaches.
Alby would then be discovered at St. Thomas port by a crew of pirates ready to start a treasure hunt that Alby would be a part of. An authentic pirate ship would be donated for his wish and would serve as reliable transportation in between islands for the journey. While sailing, Alby would defeat the evil pirate captain, force him overboard and become the captain of the crew. He would fly his flag triumphantly, which he would personally design during his stay in the hospital months prior.
Alby would steer the ship to Water Island, where they would take a dingy to shore and begin the hunt. A crowd of volunteers dressed in pirate garb would show up to support Captain Alby as he followed clues on his treasure map to finally locate the buried treasure of which he would be allowed to take home with him.
When the idea was pitched to Alby and his family, the tension in the room was high. The volunteers were banking on the fact that Alby would even be interested in the idea, let alone gain the motivation to summon the strength to partake in it. After a silent pause lasting what must have felt like an eternity, Alby smiled for the first time in months--a sight that forced everybody in the room to weep uncontrollably, including Alby himself. His wish gave him something to fight for and a reason to live.
When the day finally came time for his wish, Alby had been in a perpetual state of joy.
He piloted his ship with precise navigation skills.
He fought the dastardly pirate captain with fierce tenacity.
And took pride in his bountiful booty like all great pirates do.
The Make-A-Wish mission statement declares the following:
"We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength, and joy."
For Alby and his family, the Middle Tennessee Make-A-Wish chapter followed this ideology verbatim. To plan a wish is difficult, but to do it while looking in the eyes of a little boy begging to be set free of the physical and emotional pain of simply being him is a whole separate story. Today, Alby is a changed person.
While unfortunately still sick, it hasn't affected Alby's new perception of life. The rich fulfillment that comes from discovering a life outside his hospital has made Alby a full-time optimist, ready to beat his illness at any cost. The volunteers assigned to Alby must take pride knowing they helped save a life, while Alby must take pride in embracing the life he was handed. That's what Make-A-Wish is all about.
Whatever the odds, whatever the obstacles... wishes find a way to make the world better.