ARLINGTON, Va. — If you’re going on your dream vacation, you might as well go in style.
Three “wish kids” who asked to go to Disney World started their trip Thursday at Reagan National Airport by getting brought to the curb in black stretch limousines. Each child was greeted by a cheering crowd made up of Make-A-Wish workers and volunteers, who cheered the kids on again when they got to the gate.
Those making the trip with their families included Kaitlynn, 9, from Waldorf, Maryland, who had gotten a liver transplant; Evelyn, 4, from Fairfax Station, Virginia, who has a nervous system disorder; and Samuel, 4, from Silver Spring, Maryland, who has a congenital heart disease.
“There’s a lot of people to see me!” Kaitlynn gushed at the gate.
“She’s been counting down the days,” said her father, Steve Thomas. “She went through about 20 surgeries up to this point, but she’s always been a fighter, and always in a great mood and optimistic about everything.”
“It’s amazing. I mean, all these people — they don’t even know him,” said Danielle Hollenbach, who fought back tears as she held her son, Samuel. “They’re just here to support us and what he’s been through.”
Meanwhile, to lighten the mood, Samuel repeatedly exclaimed “airplane!” as he waited to board.
“It could not have come at a better time,” said Evelyn’s father, Stephen Fowler. “We’re so excited just to kind of get away and be immersed in a magical experience for a week.”
That’s the idea, according to Tara Wilson-Jones of Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic.
“The essence of what we do at Make-A-Wish is strive to take all the pain, all the hospital visits, all the pokes and prods by doctors, and make them a distant memory, if only for a moment,” she said, “and bring hope to kids and their families.”
Wilson-Jones added that kids who are eligible for wishes have conditions that are considered life-threatening, but not necessarily terminal. Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic granted 444 wishes last year and relies on cash donations and donations of airline miles, she said.