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Wishful Thinking

Mar 28, 2015 12:40PM ● By MED Magazine

By Staff Writers

Are you wishing for a way to help your youngest patients deal better with life-threatening illness?
Make-A-Wish has a suggestion… and the research to back it up.

Make-A-Wish South Dakota, part of the national organization that provides once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to children and young adults with life-threatening medical conditions, has had a chapter in South Dakota since 1984. That year, the organization granted six wishes to South Dakota children (the first was a chance to meet John Denver). Today, that number has risen to about 60 wishes every year and more than 1,130 total.

“If you think about the fact that these wishes impact not only the patients themselves, but also their families, we are impacting thousands of people across the state,” says President and CEO Paul Krueger.

Make-A-Wish is more than a fun distraction for sick children and their families. The organization’s mission is to measurably improve their lives – and support them in their treatment – through the hope, strength and joy that a “dream come true” can provide. Whether the dream is to meet a sports icon, travel to a foreign country, or go to Walt Disney World, evidence suggests that the experience does much more than bolster a child’s spirits at a critical time.

“A valuable aspect of Make-A-Wish is that it provides families with anticipation of a larger than life experience and helps them through some very trying times,” says Dr. George Maher, a pediatric oncologist at Sanford who calls Make-A-Wish “a valuable therapeutic adjunct.”

“Many families choose to travel to Walt Disney World which is, in many ways, ideal, in that it provides a physically sheltered environment and a nearly surreal atmosphere which allows families to escape crushing realities, regroup and return refreshed and ready to resume the fight,” he says. Even the planning and anticipation of a trip can go a long way toward relieving stress and anxiety.

According to a 2012 national ‘Wish Impact Study’, adult former wish kids, wish parents, and attending health professionals agree that the wish experience

·        Can improve overall physical health

·        Can mark a turning point in a child’s battle for health

·        Makes kids feel stronger and more energetic

·        Helps kids comply with difficult but vital treatments

·        May help save their lives (according to the majority of adult former wish kids)

Krueger says Make-A-Wish’s vision is to grant a wish to every eligible child and, unlike many non-profit organizations, they have the means to make it happen. But referrals from healthcare professionals, one of the largest sources of new wish kids, lag behind the number of eligible children. Krueger suspects that it may be because too many are confused about the eligibility requirements.

“A lot of people still think that we only serve kids who are terminally ill and that just creates unnecessary stress for families,” says Krueger, who calls health professionals “the eyes and ears of Make-A-Wish” in the community. Nationally, about 70 percent of wish recipients do go on to beat their illnesses.

“Sometimes people will say that they don’t want to ‘take the opportunity away from another child’ by accepting a wish, but we work hard to have the funds to be able to grant the wish of every child who comes our way,” says Krueger.

Individuals with direct knowledge of the child’s illness, including parents, family members, doctors, nurses, social workers, and even the sick children themselves can make a referral to Make-A-Wish, though a physician has to confirm that the child meets the criteria. To be eligible, a child must be between 2 ½ and 18-years-old and facing a life-threatening condition at the time of referral.

Some of the most common conditions prompting Make-A-Wish referrals are cancer, heart conditions, cystic fibrosis, organ transplants and duchenne muscular dystrophy. Chronic medical conditions such as diabetes or developmental or psychological disorders do not qualify.

“Ideally, we like to have kids referred when they are right in the middle of battling their illness because that is when things can seem darkest and we can give them something to look forward to,” says Krueger. “We believe that every child with a life-threatening illness deserves the chance to have a life-changing experience.”


Do you have a young patient who could use a “boost”? Here’s how to refer them to Make-A-Wish:

Phone: 605-335-8000 or 800-640-9198 

Find out more at