Brenda Haggett, mom of wish kid Zach
Editor’s note: Brenda was a featured speaker at our Sept. 21st Sugarman Law Firm Wish Ball. The post below is her speech in written form.
Some people make indelible marks on our lives. Nikki Bronner and my son Zach are two of those people. Zach was diagnosed at the age of three with mucolipidosis. We were told to take him home and make as many memories as possible, because his disease was progressive and terminal. There was no treatment; there was no cure. His life expectancy was death within the first decade. There was no hope.
As day to day life grew harder, Zach’s service coordinator suggested that we think about Make-A-Wish. His doctors had mentioned it, but we never thought it was right for Zach. He never wanted much, always saying his family was the most important thing to him. So, we lived every day to the fullest, making mundane trips to the grocery store silly and turning car rides into carpool karaoke fests. Every single day was a gift – we knew it and he knew it. This was Zach’s life motto and our family lived by it.
Watching movies was one of Zach’s favorite pastimes and he loved this movie about Winter the dolphin. She lost her tail in a crab trap and had to find a new way of doing things. She overcame the odds by using a prosthetic tail, becoming a symbol of courage and hope to amputees and the differently-abled alike. Zach thought she was amazing and said he wanted to meet her. After that comment, I called Make-A-Wish Central New York and will be forever grateful that I did!
Two wonderful wish granters came to meet Zach and discuss his favorite things. He lit up, telling them all about Winter, the amazing dolphin! At his wish reveal party, we met Nikki. We took one look at each other and laughed. We knew each other from long ago. Then, in an ever-greater twist of fate, we learned that Nikki had raised funds for a Make-A-Wish child through a flash mob at the mall. My sister and I looked at each other and then at Zachie, realizing we had watched that event at the mall which, unbeknownst to us, was raising money to make our child’s wish come true. For our family, that was only the beginning of the beauty that is Make-A-Wish.
From the moment his wish was granted until we landed at the airport, Zach could barely contain his excitement. Zach had a full week of being spoiled and catered to. It was a time where everyone stopped to smile and talk to him, not stare or judge. Everyone knew we were there to make lasting memories, which is truly what Make-A-Wish is about.
This trip was about a child who hated nature – and I mean HATED nature – who suddenly wanted to lay in the sun, stay up late to watch fireworks at Magic Kingdom, and most of all, go on a ride like all the other kids. He had never been on a ride before; he was always too small. But because he was wearing his Make-A-Wish pin, Disney let him ride the merry-go-round three times. I can still see the biggest, widest smile on his face. Make-A-Wish gives kids their lives back. No doctors, no hospitals, no judging.
On the last day of our trip, Zach could not wait to see Winter the dolphin. There were many people gathered around her, but we moved Zach right up to the front of the pool so he could see perfectly. Winter soon emerged, taking a lap and then splashing her attendant, which made Zach giggle quite loudly. I do not know if it was his belly laugh or his wheelchair, but something got Winter’s attention. She came over from the middle of the pool and stopped right in front of Zach. She proceeded to place her chin on the edge of the pool and gaze at him. He stared right back – for two hours! Every now and then, Zach would look back and say “Mom, she’s just like me!” or “Mom, isn’t she beautiful?!” Winter the dolphin and Zach shared a bond that I have never seen before and probably never will again. They clearly understood each other’s pain and hearts. It was beautiful; it was magic.
Zach’s wish touched him in such a deep place, that for the years following his trip, Zach was driven to help others dealing with similar issues. He found ways to give back through Make-A-Wish, the hospital’s local Radiothon, Children’s Miracle Network, asking for donations instead of birthday gifts and even donating tips from his job as a greeter.
This is one more lasting gift from Make-A-Wish. Both Nikki and Zach shared unbelievable trials and triumphs, but their greatest achievement was their ability to share their hearts with others who are traveling the same path, creating joy in the midst of pain. That, is what Make-A-Wish is truly about!