YOUTH

Rewards before death

BARBARA RIGHTON May 19 1986
YOUTH

Rewards before death

BARBARA RIGHTON May 19 1986

Rewards before death

YOUTH

As the Air Canada DC-9 cruised over Montreal on a special 40minute flight, Capt. Ron Clark directed the attention of the 13 passengers and crew members to such traditional tourist attractions as Olympic Stadium. And as the jetliner passed 3,000 feet above Michael Kesti’s home

and high school, the 15-year-old boy beamed with pride and excitement. For Michael, who wanted to become a pilot, the aerial tour on Nov. 27 was a dream come true—one arranged by an organization that strives to grant the wishes of terminally ill children. Michael died of cancer three weeks after

the flight, but his parents have a videotape of the excursion—and warm recollections of their son enjoying himself. Declared his mother, Mary: “It seems like he is not really gone. We have some really nice memories.”

During the past two years, 55 other children in Canada, all suffering from terminal illnesses, have realized requests ranging from one-week trips to Disney World near Orlando, Fla., to sharing inexpensive restaurant meals with their family. They have been able to do that through the auspices of the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, a federally registered charity founded by Montreal resident Deborah Sims. The 37-year-old former public relations consultant recalled that in February, 1984, she watched a television program about an Arizona woman who had dedicated herself to granting the wishes of terminally ill children after her 13-year-old daughter died of cancer. Inspired by that example, Sims started a similar organization in Canada five months later. Now, the fledgling organization plans to open chapters in Manitoba and British Columbia. Said Sims: “It is a way of giving back some of the happiness I have had from my good luck in having three healthy children.”

Foundation members follow a simple formula in their attempts to fulfil requests from children who are usually between 3 and 18. After verifying the child’s medical condition with the family’s physician, Sims or another volunteer asks the potential recipient, “If there were anywhere you could go, anyone you could meet, anything you could do,what would it be?” she says. Then, they try to fulfil the wish within 10 days. Disney World has been the destination of choice for 30 of the 56 children, and one 16-year-old cancer victim achieved her fantasy of singing on stage with rock stars Bryan Adams and Tina Turner at last November’s Juno awards in Toronto. Declared Laura Cole, a 33-year-old Ajax, Ont., housewife and foundation director: “We never call them ‘last wishes’—and we never say no.”

To that end, foundation members have persuaded hotel chains and airlines to donate such items as free air tickets and accommodations. But the expenses of some wishes—the oneweek family visits to Disney World alone cost $2,000 each—have led Sims to begin planning a nationwide fundraising drive in November. Her goal is to raise $250,000, and Mary Kesti has pledged to help canvass donors. As well as anyone, she knows the value of fulfilling a wish for a terminally ill child.

BARBARA RIGHTON in Toronto