Wendy has been a nurse practitioner in pediatric neurosurgery for 15 years and has spent 19 years working at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. She has referred hundreds of children to Make-A-Wish, but Wendy’s connection to the wish-granting organization is especially personal. Her daughter, Olivia, has hydrocephalus, a condition in which there is a buildup of fluid in her brain. She was born 16 weeks premature and had bleeding in her brain. Olivia has now had 30 operations on her brain, 19 operations on her spine, and has spent 416 days of her life in hospital.
Olivia’s wish to go on a cruise with Disney Cruise Line® was granted in 2012 when she was nine years old. After their family’s experience with Make-A-Wish, Wendy joined the Make-A-Wish Northern Alberta board of directors to help ensure that more children like Olivia have a life-changing wish experience.
Here, Wendy shares her unique perspective on the impact of a wish.
Tell us about your role at Stollery and how you support families as a nurse practitioner.
“I always tell the families when I meet them that my job is to work for them. So really, the way that I see my role, is to try to make the medical journey as easy and as understandable as possible for them. I try to help them navigate the system and through their journey, I make sure that they feel heard and supported.”
How did you first learn about Make-A-Wish?
“I’ve known about Make-A-Wish since I became a nurse practitioner. But I don’t think that I fully understood the organization until I saw the impact that wishes have on kids. A wish is the one thing that we can offer that is a bright spot in the most difficult times. It’s almost like permission to talk about something happy when nobody feels like they should be able to because the diagnosis has been so devastating.
Once you’ve referred a kid for a wish, it’s fun to see them at the clinic after their experience; all they want to talk about is who they met, where they went, or their excitement about their wish coming true very soon. Referring children for wishes becomes part of your job as a medical professional and you also need the wish to help pick yourself up every day, from the days that are the hardest.”
Tell us about your daughter’s wish.
“I remember when it was suggested that we refer Olivia for a wish – I’d referred many kids for wishes and it didn’t even cross my mind that she would qualify. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to us and we gave ourselves permission to just enjoy the experience and set aside everything else. Her wish was to captain a Disney Cruise Line ship in the Bahamas.
There were days during the trip when Olivia wasn’t feeling well and needed more rest. I worried that we should have waited until she was better. After the trip, I asked her if she had fun and she said, ‘mom, it was, like, the best week of my life.’ It was the right time to go, she needed it - I think we all needed it. Olivia still faces complications from her medical condition. Her most recent surgery was in December and as a family, we’ve really learned to live in the moment.”
Why do you refer children to Make-A-Wish?
“Since Olivia’s wish, I see it as a necessity instead of just a ‘nice to have’. There’s this beautiful memory I have from the wish trip of sitting on the beach and watching our three kids play in the sand. There was a time when we weren’t sure that we would ever have moments like that. Those moments gave us hope.
I love knowing that the wish has a positive impact on the mental health of the entire family – parents and siblings deserve this experience as well. Now, referring a child for a wish is on my checklist of things to make sure to do for my patients. When a child qualifies for a wish, it really creates this bond of trust between us because you’re no longer just the person administering medicine or doing a procedure. You become the person who helps them get this opportunity to do what they really want to do.
I want more medical professionals to understand that a wish is really about honouring the big medical hurdles that kids have to overcome. You really have nothing to lose by referring kids and you have everything to gain in giving them this opportunity that is second-to-none.”
Visit makeawish.ca/referachild to learn more about referring a child for a life-changing wish.