“My First Wish Kid Meet & Greet”
My name is Lauren, and it is my job to be the public face of Kids Wish Network and the voice of hope that we strive to share with the nation. Most mornings you’ll find me twirling the phone cord in my office while pitching a story to a reporter, vigorously typing out our latest press release, or covered in sticky notes and red pen as I brainstorm and edit our organization’s most recent ideas for campaigns. This is all in a day’s work for a Public Relations Specialist.
I’ve written stories about our organization, seen pictures of the kids we’ve helped, and sat in on meetings where wishes were actually planned. It pains me to learn that some of our kids have been bullied at school because they’ve lost their hair or have gained weight as a result of their conditions. My eyes water at the thought that not all of our little heroes will be able to win their battles against their illnesses. I believed I understood how our organization’s contributions changed lives.
Then I met Liam. The 5-year-old walked into the lobby of the St. Petersburg, Florida, children’s museum Great Explorations where a few members of the team from Kids Wish Network were waiting to meet him and Liam absolutely stole my heart. I immediately recognized his mop of blonde hair, tiny professor-like glasses, the wonderstruck look in his eyes as he swiveled his head back and forth, taking in his new surroundings and the telltale KWN Hero shirt he was proudly wearing. His family was all smiles as they approached us, looking at the banner we were holding and the balloons that adorned it, all for Liam’s arrival.
Liam has hydrocephalus, a build-up of cerebral fluid putting pressure on his brain. Doctors have also diagnosed him with a complex brain malformation, epilepsy, autism, global delays, and cyclic vomiting. He has been hospitalized countless times with complications from his illnesses and undergone multiple surgeries.
His medical condition was the farthest thing from my mind, though, as I watched Liam open his pile of presents from Kids Wish Network and the museum coordinators at Great Explorations and Sunken Gardens. He was in awe of his new toys, minion character themed beach gear, and cookie-monster baseball cap. Liam loves to swim and according to his mom, “spent hours in the pool” at the Plaza Beach Hotel on the previous day. Liam’s little red-rimmed eyes from the chlorine were proof enough of that. He high-fived his wish coordinator, Cassi, who led him into the museum, where his next surprise waited.
As Liam entered the playroom, a red and blue figure waved at him from the top of a slide built into a tree house. It was none other than Liam’s favorite superhero, Spiderman, from Charcter-Visits.com. The comic-book character used his “superhuman speed and agility” to scale down the side of the structure and introduce himself to Liam. Immediately trusting him, Liam took Spiderman’s hand and the two went off on an exploration mission. The rest of us trailed after them and watched the fast-friends play. Liam was in love with the veterinarian corner where he found two large stuffed animal puppies to adopt for the afternoon. Liam and Spiderman took the “dogs” on a walk around a nearby shiny red firetruck at the “firehouse station” of Great Explorations. He also got the chance to pet a trio of real live turtles in the critter center and joined his older brother, Collin, on a crawl through the “touch tunnel,” where the darkness forces you to feel your way out.
Being able to meet Liam and interact with him on his wish meant the world to me. Seeing him in person and hearing his parents’ gratitude firsthand was the most incredible experience. It made my job even more meaningful. Liam is not just an adorable boy in a photograph or an inspiring story of courage on a website. He is not just a profile in a manila folder on my desk. He is a real kid, fighting a real illness, with a real laugh, and a real smile. Liam reminded me why I’m here, why I chose this job, and why I want to do everything in my power to give it my all. Because he deserves it.