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Northeastern California Make-A-Wish Making Dreams Come True for Over 30 Years

02/26/2015 03:37PM ● By Morgan Cásarez

Photos by Dante Fontana © Style Media Group

Owen Provencher was just two weeks old when routine newborn screening revealed he had cystic fibrosis (CF), a life-threatening genetic disorder that affects one in 3,200 Caucasian babies. Currently, there is no cure for CF, which causes cells that produce bodily fluids to become thick and sticky, severely damaging the lungs and pancreas.

Owen, now six, manages his disease with the help of medication, daily treatments, family support and hockey. The lifelong Red Wings fan always dreamed of hitting the ice with his favorite team, and in October 2014 that dream finally came true. With the help of the Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada (NECANNV), Owen and his parents flew to Detroit for a day of skating with his idol: goalie Jimmy Howard. 

“Often we feel like we are hit with things that are out of our control, even when we’re following all the right steps. The trip was an opportunity to get away, a break from reality. It was a great spiritual lift for our family,” Owen’s mother, Heidi, explains. “It is hard to put into words how much [it] meant to us.”

For more than 30 years, Make-A-Wish Foundation has brought hope to children facing life-threatening medical conditions nationwide. Headquartered in Arizona, the nonprofit was inspired by Chris Greicius, a seven-year-old from Phoenix who wanted to become a police officer. Just days before his death from leukemia in 1980, Chris’ wish was granted with the help of his community. Decades later, more than a quarter-of-a-million children have followed in Chris’ footsteps to become public safety officers, superheroes, musicians, athletes and so much more—if only for one carefree day.

“A common misconception of Make-A-Wish is that all the kids we serve are terminally ill,” shares Joanie Johnston, senior director of mission delivery at Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada. “While some of the kids lose their fight, a vast majority of our wish children go on with their lives! I want families to think of Make-A-Wish as one of the building blocks that can help their child move forward in the journey.”

Make-A-Wish Northeastern California and Northern Nevada is one of the organization’s oldest chapters. Founded in 1983 by local businessman Frank Ramos, it has served more than 5,000 children throughout 37 counties and is home to the Wishing Place, a state-of-the-art facility where one wish is granted every business day.

“Recent national ‘impact studies’ have provided statistics in the 81-99-percent range confirming that the impact of a wish experience has a direct result on the emotional and physical health of a child,” says Jennifer Stolo, CEO of Make-A-Wish NECANNV. “Furthermore, surveys found that wish children complied more with treatment protocols and parents reported that it marked a turning point in their child’s response to treatment. The wish experience is so powerful, even beyond reasonable medical explanations.” Following his own experience, Owen told his mother that being granted his wish meant “everything in the world.”

“He had more fun than he has ever had. He was filled with an incredible gratitude and excitement. The wish really gave Owen a new zest.”
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