For Children Battling Illness, Make-A-Wish New Jersey Fulfills Life-Changing Wishes

The nonprofit aims to bring joy and strength to critically sick kids and teens.

Micaela, left, shadowed Dr. Ourania Preventza for one wish-fulfilling week at a Texas hospital. Courtesy of Make-A-Wish New Jersey

“We want to bring joy and adventure back into
 their lives.” —Thomas P. Weatherall, CEO

Wishes come in all shapes and sizes: meeting a famous person, taking an unforgettable vacation, or making a difference in someone else’s life.

When Make-A-Wish New Jersey asked cancer patient Micaela for her wish, the 16-year-old revealed her desire to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. “I knew I was interested in medicine,” says Micaela (whose full name is withheld to protect her privacy).

Make-A-Wish NJ seeks to make wishes come true for children and teens like Micaela who are diagnosed with critical illnesses, including cystic fibrosis, nervous-system disorders and cancer. The organization’s sole mission is to grant wishes and contribute to the well-being of the children who come to them for help.

“Make-A-Wish wants to come into their lives and change those heavy experiences of fear and the unknown,” says Thomas Weatherall, CEO of Make-A-Wish NJ since 2005. The children referred to the charity are not all terminally ill, but their illnesses are, in one way or another, life threatening. “We want to bring childhood, joy and adventure back into their lives…and ideally, bring some strength to their battles as well.”

Make-A-Wish NJ receives no government funding and never charges a fee. Instead, it relies on philanthropy. “We are so fortunate in New Jersey to have one of the most generous communities in the country,” says Weatherall.

The nonprofit is headquartered in Monroe Township in a whimsical, castle-like building named for donors Samuel and Josephine Plumeri. Walking through its forest-like halls, children enter a land of enchantment. Vivid murals adorn the Inspiration Room, while hooting owls, brewing potions and a wishing star add fantasy to the Wishing Room.

In New Jersey, approximately 700 children a year are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Improving their outlook and chance for recovery is the critical work of Make-A-Wish NJ.

“We are more than warm and fuzzy,” says Weatherall. “We are at times just as important as the treatment protocols these children are receiving.”

Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place in Monroe Township. Courtesy of Make-A-Wish New Jersey

Of course, Make-A-Wish NJ couldn’t turn Micaela into a surgeon, but it was able to expose her to that world at the Texas Heart Institute (THI) in Houston, Texas. For an entire week, Micaela shadowed Dr. Ourania Preventza, attending cardiothoracic surgeon at THI. Micaela observed six surgeries, visited the research labs, and met other specialists.

“One word for that whole week is gratitude,” says her mother, Lily.

This year, Make-A-Wish NJ aims to bring the same kind of experience to at least 600 of New Jersey’s critically ill children.

Make-A-Wish NJ president and CEO Thomas P. Weatherall with several of New Jersey’s Make-A-Wish kids. Courtesy of Make-A-Wish New Jersey

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