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Published: Monday, 11/26/2001

Survivors give thanks to foundation at big bash


Yesterday, he was a beaming, happy kid after picking up a new Gundam action figure at the annual Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northwest Ohio Christmas party.

Matthew, who lives in Toledo, was one of about 130 children and 600 adults who attended the party at Gladieux Meadows, 4480 Heatherdowns Blvd.

Julie Bembenek, Matthew's mother, said her family went to the party just to have some fun and to show appreciation for the trip the foundation sent them on in June to Disney World and the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando.

“The T-Rex ride is the best - the Jurassic Park one [at Universal Studios],” said Matthew, whose cancer is in remission. “It was pretty freaky at the end because you almost thought you were going to crash, but actually you went down.”

Since its founding in 1984, Make-A-Wish of Northwest Ohio has granted about 700 requests of children who have life-threatening illnesses. About 550 of the children are still alive, said Megan Ferguson, event coordinator for the organization.

Mary Kay Minder, one of the volunteers who helps coordinate wish requests, said the wishes seem to bolster the children's spirits and make them feel better.

“I'm not saying they go into remission because of it, but their health improves,” Ms. Minder said. “They have something to focus on.”

Jonathan Judge, 16, has had three bouts with kidney cancer. He said a home-theater system that the foundation gave him buoyed his hopes when, in his words, he was “almost dead” and his immune system was decimated by chemotherapy.

“It's meaningful in that during any period of illness or cancer, it can just go downhill,” said Jonathan, a Sylvania Northview High School student. “You don't know if you're going to live, you're depressed. But when your wish comes in, it's instant happiness. It's something to look forward to when you're done [with treatment].”

Jonathan, who said he's healthy again after battling with cancer that reoccurred in 2000, “wished” for the home-theater system, reasoning that a meeting with a celebrity or a vacation would be great, but he wanted something he could keep.

His mother, Christen Judge, said her son started to improve shortly after finding out his wish would be granted.

“He was laying there with nothing to do but dream about what he was going to wish for,” Mrs. Judge said.

Patricia Brown said a trip to Disney World for her son Isaiah did a lot to cheer him up after a virus made a liver transplant necessary almost two years ago.

Isaiah, a 12-year-old in the sixth grade at Greenwood Elementary School in Toledo, said the trip with his family was fun because he “got to go on some rides.”

“It was a big deal,” Mrs. Brown said. “He was so excited. It was his first airplane trip, and it was totally awesome. I can't describe it any other way.”

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