Anne Laurence Johnson
Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, social worker/LCSW
How long have you been referring children to Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee?
I have been referring to children to Make-A-Wish Middle Tennessee for over three years, but I have had a connection with this branch for many years before that. Two children that I babysat for received wishes after their cancer diagnoses, so I got to experience it as a “support person” before I got to as a referrer.
In what way have you seen the impact of a wish?
As both a referral source and as a friend, I have seen that one of the biggest impacts of a wish is the impact it has on the entire family. Chronic/acute illnesses do not just impact the child diagnosed, and it can disrupt the entire family. To see not only the child light up when talking about his/her experience, but also the siblings and the parents, is truly special. I cannot think of a word more fitting than special or life-changing. Offering a referral to Make-A-Wish, where we know their child will be empowered to dream big, is one small victory we can offer families during a very bleak time. The mood instantly changes when I bring up, “I think he/she may be eligible for a Make-A-Wish, what do you know about them?” And then I get to explain!
About two years ago, I was working with another chapter to fulfill a child’s wish of meeting Florida Georgia Line, as their music and pictures were one of the only things that made her smile. Her illness progressed very quickly and she was in our ICU. When we knew that she would likely not recover from her illness, her local chapter reached out to the Middle Tennessee chapter, who was able to fulfill a wish for her in just hours. I met a volunteer who brought Florida Georgia Line signed paraphernalia andCDs, and a party was held in her room while their song "Cruise" played. She passed away later that night, but she passed away surrounded by what she loved. When I came into her room with all that Make-A-Wish brought, her entire family burst into tears of joy, knowing that while her first wish could not be fulfilled, her wish was still fulfilled. They were so moved that she was not forgotten because she was dying, and that people went out of their way to ensure that her final moments were joyous ones. I got to experience a few minutes of pure joy with that patient and her family at the most difficult time of their lives.
What is your favorite wish story you’ve heard from a child?
There are too many to count. The creativity that Make-A-Wish and these children have is astounding, and a great way to engage with the kids is to talk about their wish. It also gives me things to add to my bucket list! Jalan’s wish was my favorite to witness, knowing what an emotional struggle he had during the progression of his illness, but that’s not the question…
Many of the wishes and their impact I get to experience after-the-fact: when the family comes back from a trip or after receiving something they have desperately wanted. I did, however, get to experience a wish firsthand. Due to the family being Spanish-speaking, and the nature of the child’s wish (sensory objects), we arranged to fulfill the wish at their clinic visit. The parents and the child’s older sister came to clinic, all dressed up with their parents and camera in tow. They thought that they would just be getting one or two toys but were overwhelmed with the cart of sensory toys and clothing. These were toys that their child used in physical therapy and occupational therapy, but never dreamed they would be able to own. To this day, every time I see the family, they show me that she has one of her toys from Make-A-Wish with her, and they continue to thank me for that experience. Needless to say, I ugly-cried after that clinic visit and felt very grateful.
I was recently meeting with a family to provide support for their child’s progressive chronic illness, when I brought up that I believed he would be eligible for a wish. The child, who was not paying much attention to me, sat up and shared “I did that! I went to Disney World and ate ice cream.” He continued to voice how much fun he had at Disney World eating ice cream. This little boy, who was not feeling great, engaged so well when discussing his Make-A-Wish experience. Even though he was little, he remembered it with such great detail. Hearing him light up at just the words ”Make-A-Wish” was so moving and demonstrated the impact of this organization.
If you could have one wish, what would it be?
The practical young adult in me would like to say a room makeover for my newly-renovated home. The not-so-practical part of me would love to meet Celine Dion (Titanic holds a special place in my heart) or be a cooking/baking show host on Food Network for the day!