BILOXI- Little 5-year-old James, also known as ‘Cricket Bug’ to his family, has very simple tastes: he absolutely loves trains. James is the happiest when he is either watching one of his many train videos, like Thomas the Tank Engine, or playing with his own extensive collection of locomotives. But no matter how much joy these simple pleasures might bring to James, they cannot completely make up for the daily battle this little boy fights against Batten’s disease. This very rare and inherited neurological disorder, which has also stricken his older brother, causes mental impairment, seizures, and progressive loss of sight and motor skills. It is hard for James to speak and he must take medication to control his seizures. “He is already losing his eyesight and will probably be in a wheelchair within the year,” said Carol, his mother.
So when Wish Coordinator Madeline Robinson of Kids Wish Network heard about James, she said ‘I know I can’ and engineered a railway dream for the train enthusiast. It began with a limousine ride to the airport where James and his parents boarded a plane bound for Santa Fe, New Mexico. “The hotel was absolutely wonderful,” Carol said. “We had a suite with our very own butler. They even had cookies and an ice bucket full of milk for James.” The hotel even presented James with a special gift: an engineer’s whistle and hat, a pocket watch, and gloves. The next morning, it was off to the train station to ride the rails on the Santa Fe. “The engineer talked to James and he got to watch the train cars couple and uncouple,” Carol said. “He was so fascinated he was almost speechless. He was practically quivering with excitement.”
After his big day on the tracks, James and his parents left Santa Fe and drove to Chama, New Mexico where they were greeted with a hero’s welcome. “They were so genuine and so gracious to us in Chama,” said his father, Dave. A wonderful woman from the hotel even enlisted the help of a local restaurant to provide them with meals during their stay and surprised James with a visit from the fire department. “She arranged for them to bring a fire truck to the hotel so James could ride it,” said Carol. “The firemen even gave James an official fireman’s hat.” After the ride on the fire engine, it was time to board the Cumbres and Toltec steam engine. “He loved all the noise that the steam trains make,” Dave said. “The engineer was wonderful and James even got to throw a piece of coal into the firebox. The noise and fire scared him at first, but he made the throw on the first try. He was in such awe over that.”
After one more night in Chama, the family chugged over to Durango, Colorado, so James could enjoy one more ride on the steam engine, the Durango-Silverton. “It was such a beautiful ride,” Carol said. “It was well worth it.” The family even enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the mining town of Silverton before they headed back to Durango and to the end of their great journey. “The entire trip was so much fun for James,” Dave said. “He’s such a wonderful little boy and it was great to see him have such a good time. It was all so sweet.”
“Children with Batten’s disease start to lose their short term memory as the condition progresses,” Carol said. “But now he will have this trip in his long term memory, that’s why it was so important for James to go while he can still walk and see.” His brother Mark still remembers a similar trip that he took when he was younger, so Carol and Dave are grateful that James will also have something to hang on to as his health deteriorates. “The trains are so alive with sights and sounds for him that he will never forget them,” Dave said. “We are just so happy that we were able to see James do something that he only dreams about.” Now no matter what his future brings, James will be able to hop aboard, hear the whistles, and pull away from the station on the train inside his heart and mind.
Kids Wish Network would like to thank its gracious sponsors: American Airlines, Advantage Rent A Car, the Hotel Santa Fe, the Santa Fe, the Chama Station Inn, the Cumbres and Toltec, the General Palmer Hotel, the Durango-Silverton, the Wyndham Albequerque Airport Hotel, Celebrity Limousine, Luxury Limousines, the Iron Skillet Restaurant, and a very special thanks to Betty Ridgway of the Chama Station Inn.
Kids Wish Network is a nationally recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to grant wishes to children who have life-threatening illnesses. If you know a child between the ages of 3 and 18 who may be in need of their wish granting services, please call (813) 891-9374 or toll free at (888) 918-9004. You can also visit its web site at www.kidswishnetwork.org.