When You Wish
Upon a Star

Photo by Christina Yang

Junior Isabella “Bella” Simons spent last summer in Hawaii at Disney’s Aulani resort.  But, without the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Simons may not have been able to go on the trip at all.

“Honestly, (Make-A-Wish) just gave me a break from all the medical appointments and treatments, and it was just so nice to just feel normal again and be with my family on vacation in such a beautiful place,” Simons said.

Last year, Simons started to notice unusual symptoms such as vomiting and frequent headaches.

“I was in shock for quite a while, (and) I had no idea; I had figured that I had caught some crazy virus,” she said.

What Simons did not know was that the vomiting was caused by a tumor putting pressure on her brain. She said it was difficult to deal with the symptoms.

“(My family and I) were all very shocked. We knew something was wrong, more than a cold or the flu,” Simons said.

After Simons had an MRI, the doctors figured out what was causing the symptoms.

In October of last year, she was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a benign brain tumor commonly found in children and older adults.

“We never would’ve guessed that I had a brain tumor. It was shocking to my whole family,” Simons said. “It’s very just overwhelming; it was kind of unexpected. I wasn’t doing very well at all. It was just shocking that it had been a brain tumor.”

Graphic by Chelsea Dai

As soon as she received the diagnosis, Simons needed surgery to remove the tumor. She spent three days at the Riley Hospital for Children.

“Here I thought I had some weird virus, and then I go to the doctor and they say, ‘Actually you have a brain tumor and you need surgery tomorrow because you could die,’” Simons said.

While she was in the hospital, her mother referred her to the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“She knew I was going through a hard time, and she thought Make-A-Wish would just cheer me up and lift my spirits because I’ve been through so much,” Simons said.

Simons said she wished for a trip to Hawaii because she wanted to go on a photography trip but could not, due to her illness.

“I always wanted to go to Hawaii, so I decided ‘Hey, here’s a great opportunity,’” Simons said.

Then, after Simons’s wish was approved, wishmakers granted it. Morgan James, a wish program associate who helped with Simons’s case, contacted the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Hawaii and spent several months planning the trip.

“Initially I was really excited. I was just really hoping I would get a Make-A-Wish because it’d be a fun experience to kind of get my mind off everything that was going on medically,” Simons said.

Kelsey Leichtnam, Make-A-Wish development officer and CHS graduate, points to a map of Indiana with tacks for  each child who has received a wish. Leichtnam said the foundation restarts the map in August, so the tacks only show a few of the total children Make-A-Wish has served.
Photo by Christina Yang

Submitted photo with Mickey Mouse from Simons’s trip to Aulani

This sign sits on Leichtnam’s desk at work. She said it serves as a constant reminder to keep working hard to grant the children’s wishes.
Photo by Christina Yang

James said she has a personal connection to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The foundation helped her best friend’s sister in 2013.

“I remember the excitement she had coming off of her trip, and for a while we all forgot she was sick. I was so impressed and touched by everything Make-A-Wish did for her that I made it a goal to work here,” James said via email. “The fact I get to do this every day is awesome. It’s like a dream job for me.”

Similarly, Kelsey Leichtnam, Make-A-Wish development manager, also said she has a personal connection to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In 2004, her brother received a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an experience he enjoyed before he passed away in 2011.

“For me and my family, the impact is, since you don’t physically have him in your life, you rely heavily on memories. The memories that you make, especially during a wish experience, are pretty profound,” Leichtnam said.

According to Leichtnam, the Indiana chapter has granted around 250 wishes this year. She said these wishes can help the children and their families by taking their minds off of the medical treatments.

“The family feels more like a family because they didn’t have to think about hospital treatment or anything like that. We always get great feedback from the kids too. They send in artwork and pictures and thank you notes to us if they can,” Leichtnam said.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation also works with the community to raise money. Carmel Clay schools, including Creekside Middle School, Clay Middle School and Cherry Tree Elementary School have all contributed to the foundation, according to Leichtnam.

“In Carmel, we’re working with a lot of the schools. It’s pretty exciting,” she said.

Leichtnam said she hears from many of the kids that the wishes give them an escape when they’re lying in a hospital bed or undergoing treatment.

“It kind of provides them that time to get their imagination back or take their mind of off the things that a child shouldn’t have to experience,” Leichtnam said. “Also if they’re exhausted from their battles, sometimes it recharges the batteries to have them keep going and just kind of re-instilling that will to fight and push through any kind of tough times.”

Simons agreed with this sentiment.

“I got to meet a lot of the Disney characters, and it was just a fun experience,” she said. “I was just so happy after months of recovering from brain surgery and adjusting to essentially my new life.”

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Jordyn Blakey