Gytis began life differently than a majority of the children we serve. He spent his early years living at an orphanage in Lithuania. Not only was this the foundation of his wish request, but the years he spent in Lithuania continue to shape him as a young man.
Gytis was adopted by his parents when he was about six or seven years old. His dad is a respiratory therapist and his parents chose him specifically because he had cystic fibrosis. They knew they were equipped to address Gytis’ medical needs and could provide him better care and a longer life than the orphanage ever could.
After Gytis received news that he would be getting a wish, he knew right away what he wanted to do. Gytis wanted to return to his roots in Lithuania and brighten the lives of the children who were in a situation similar to what his had been years before.
Gytis’ wish was two-fold. The part of Gytis’ wish that was the most widely championed and widely felt was his desire to bring toys to kids in the orphanage where he spent the first several years of his life. He remembered how he felt living there and knew what joy new toys could bring to kids that are in the same condition.
The second part of Gytis’ wish was subtler but just as poignant. He wanted to return to his roots. He wanted to show his brothers where he lived and where he spent those first formative years of his life. He wanted to get reacquainted with the adults who cared for him. He wanted to show them how well he was doing and how happy he is with his family.
Prior to leaving for Lithuania, Gytis shopped for toys to give the kids in the orphanage. Toys “R” Us opened the store early and provided a gift card to cover a portion of the toys. When he was choosing items, Gytis was very thoughtful in what he picked. He chose educational items as well as fun toys. He tried to balance “boy toys” and “girl toys.” He wouldn’t let anyone pick stuffed animals or toys with small pieces because they can be dangerous for small children.
Gytis had some shopping helpers from the Nashville Predators Foundation and a few weeks later, local UPS employees brought staff members to our Make-A-Wish office and helped Gytis sort and package the toys. We relied on them to expertly handle the logistics to make sure the toys arrived safely and on time. Gytis was involved in every step of the packaging process.
After much preparation, it was time for the actual wish. Gytis and his family flew to Lithuania. They arrived at the orphanage where Gytis met several of his former caretakers, all of whom he remembered. They talked about how kind and helpful he was, and he shared memories of going mushroom gathering and making cookies on New Year’s Eve. He toured the facility and finally met the kids. Smiles and happy tears were abundant.
Gytis’ mom, Bonnie, said that after they returned home, news of Gytis’ wish had spread across the country. While at a church service in Lithuania, a couple from the congregation recognized Gytis from the news reports and knew about this heartfelt wish. In an email, Bonnie expressed her desire that Gytis’ wish experience will “keep giving and giving more hope.”