CHAMA- 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 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.
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: a trip to Chama to ride the Cumbres and Toltec. Madeline’s next call was to Betty Ridgway at the Chama Station Inn, where Betty soon began making plans of her own for James and his family. “I’ve been very fortunate in my life and I wanted to give something back,” Betty said. Betty arranged for the Iron Skillet to provide the family’s meals during their entire stay. The morning after James’ arrival, she had Carol and Dave set up to do a radio interview at KFLH in order to raise awareness about their son’s rare disease. While at the station, little James was given two surprises. The first was a bunch of balloons. The second was a trip on a real fire engine to the train station. “Betty arranged for them to bring the fire truck to the station so James could ride it,” said Carol. “The firemen even gave James an official fireman’s hat.”
“They were so genuine and so gracious to us in Chama,” said Dave. After the ride on the fire engine, it was time to board the Cumbres and Toltec steam engine. More balloons and flowers were waiting for James on the platform when he arrived. “The engineer was wonderful and James even got to throw a piece of coal into the firebox,” Dave said. “He was in such awe over that.” The Chama Valley Times and Jay Wimer helped to capture James’ trip forever by writing a story about it and placing pictures on the Internet. Before they left Chama, James and his parents got to visit the Narrow Gauge Gift Shop where they were generously provided with a shirt, cap, and whistle for James and his brother, Mark, who couldn’t make the trip. When asked how she was able to convince all the other business to help James, innkeeper Betty said, “If you believe in something strong enough, you project that out towards others and can get them to join you.”
“Children with Batten’s disease start to lose their short term memory as the condition progresses,” James’ mother, 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 when he was still able to walk and see.” His health has taken a turn for the worse since his dream trip to Chama, so Carol and Dave are grateful that James will have something to hang on to as his health deteriorates. James is losing his eyesight, is having daily seizures and is now in a wheelchair. But the family takes things one day at a time and is glad they took the trip when they did. “The trains were 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 sends special thanks to all the people of Chama who welcomed James, not only in their establishments, but in their hearts: Andy and Elberia Anderson of the Iron Skillet Café, Ms. Kim Smith Flowers of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Fire Chief Felix Gallegos of the Chama Fire Department, Mr. And Mrs. Lee Casey and Ms. Betty Ellis of the Narrow Gauge Gift Shop, Mr. Scott Flury and Ms. Pam Aquilar of KFLH Radio, Cliff and Margaret Palmer of the Chama Valley Times, Bob and Sylvia Manthy-Zorn of the Trackside Emporium, Mark and Terry’s Florist, Mr. Jay Wimer, and of course our deepest thanks to the Chama Station Inn and Ms. Betty Ridgway who was willing to reach out and give back to a little boy she didn’t even know.
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.