Danny Pike burst through the door last Friday, leading the rest of his second grade class into a room filled with his family and friends. His shocked expression quickly turned to excitement as he realized the people, the Mickey Mouse cake, and the crepe paper and balloon decorations in the Raymond Elementary School classroom were all there to celebrate his Make-A-Wish Foundation trip to Walt Disney World in Florida.
His delighted classmates, who had managed to keep the surprise a secret for nearly a week, wasted no time showing Danny the book they had made for him. Compiled by their teacher, Ann Bottoms, it was filled with pages designed by the students, complete with their drawings and wishes for him.
As Danny bounced from one group to the next, looking like any other normal second grader, his sturdy legs and flushed cheeks belied doctors’ predictions that he’d never walk again.
His ordeal began about two years ago, when he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a solid tumor cancer that usually begins in the tissue of the adrenal gland. Since that time, he has undergone extensive chemotherapy and physical therapy. Currently, he is in remission.
During his struggles, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine became involved with Danny’s case. This organization grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Since its inception in 1992, the Foundation has fulfilled nearly 600 wishes for Maine children, ages two-and-a-half to 18.
These wishes range from a trip to Disney World, the most popular, to meeting the child’s favorite celebrity. Almost no wish is beyond the capabilities of the staff of dedicated, wand-waving volunteers.
Though people can become involved with the organization in a number of ways, Linda Jackson Phillips and Paulette Kitka are convinced their job is the most fun. As two of the Maine Foundation’s 160 wish granters, they visit with the family, meet the child to find out his or her wish, and, after approval from the Foundation, get to put the wish together.
In Danny’s case, they began by preparing him for his first plane ride. Portland Jetport assisted by rolling out the magic carpet and allowing Danny and his family to go behind the scenes.
“We went to the airport and we got to go on a plane and they checked me with the metal detectors,” said Danny. “We also went to the fire truck station. I got to wear a hat and I got to pretend I was driving. And you know those things that squirt water? I got to squirt and I almost squirted my mom.”
He also received a signed photograph from his favorite actor: “To Danny, Flying is so much fun! Love, John Travolta.”
So, with all the groundwork laid for a stress-free flight, Danny and his family will be able to leave their worries behind and enjoy a relaxing vacation in sunny Florida.
With the anticipation of that trip, combined with the air of excitement in the classroom, Danny enthusiastically cut around the picture of Mickey Mouse on the festive sheet cake, insisting on serving each classmate himself. Only when the rest of the students were eating their cake and ice cream did he, himself, take his seat to begin eating.
As wish granter Phillips said, “Danny is such a loving child. Can you imagine? He gave us hugs in front of his whole class.”
And his affection seemed to be reflected in the faces and actions of all the children in the room. Their heartwarming attitude and genuine excitement for Danny was perhaps best expressed by one of his classmates, bubbling with delight over his friend’s trip: “I’m just special for Danny already!”
Danny Pike and his teacher, Ann Bottoms, are enjoying his surprise party at Raymond Elementary School. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine is sending Danny and his family to Walt Disney World in Florida.