Help goes national as local cancer survivor, 4, will get her wish.
McKenna May sits with mother, Whitney Hughes. McKenna finished chemotherapy treatment for leukemia on June 25. A family dispute had led to the refusal of a Make-A-Wish Foundation grant.
HASKINS, Ohio -- A community fund-raising effort to send a four-year-old cancer survivor to Walt Disney World after her Make-A-Wish trip was canceled turned national Thursday as the family from Haskins reached its goal.
Friends and strangers from across the country contributed to raise more than twice the $3,500 needed for 4-year-old McKenna May's family to grant her wish to meet the Disney princesses.
"All we wanted was our $3,500 to get her there, and this has just taken on a whole different thing," said McKenna's grandmother, Lori Helppie. "It's gotten really big."
McKenna, who has been fighting leukemia since she was 23 months old, finished her last chemotherapy treatment June 25, with plenty of time to spare before her August trip to Orlando, Fla., with her mother, sister Shayleigh, 2, and maternal grandparents, sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
However, disagreements about the trip between McKenna's parents led her father, William May of Toledo, to refuse to sign the necessary paperwork to enable McKenna to participate with the foundation.
In response, Whitney Hughes, McKenna's mother, turned down the offer from Make-A-Wish and sought alternative means to fulfill McKenna's wish.
Lori Helppie, McKenna's grandmother, fields phone calls Wednesday from national media and people wanting to donate.
"It's kind of just an opportunity for [McKenna's father] to get back at us, because I don't think he ever had any intention of signing," Ms. Hughes said. "So I just did what was necessary to get her to go. My main concern was her."
The family placed donation jars in Haskins businesses and established an online donation account.
"It wasn't possible to do any formal fund-raiser, since I didn't have the time to put together some huge event," Ms. Hughes said. "Our interest was just to get the word out to the area for them to donate."
Their efforts, paired with the media attention the playful fighter has gotten, paid off. McKenna's account on gofundme.com raised over $8,500 by Thursday evening.
Ms. Helppie also received a call from a nonprofit organization near Pittsburgh that was willing to bankroll the entire trip.
McKenna's father said he initially hesitated to sign the paperwork because he wanted the rest of her family to be able to celebrate her wish with her. "Why are they paying for grandma and grandpa to go and one sibling, and not the rest of her siblings and her father?" he asked.
Though the foundation consented to pay for Mr. May's travel as well, he later raised an issue with the trip because McKenna finished chemotherapy and is no longer a cancer patient. Mr. May said Make-A-Wish funds should be dedicated to terminally ill children.
Susan McConnell, president and chief executive officer of the Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana chapter of Make-A-Wish, said the organization does not focus on whether a child is terminally ill, but rather on the trials endured by the child.
William May of Toledo holds his daughter, McKenna, in a Facebook photo. Mr. May said he initially hesitated to sign the paperwork for McKenna to go to Disney World because he wanted the rest of McKenna's family to be able to celebrate her wish with her.
"When kids get cancer, they go through tremendous medical protocol," she said. "Make-A-Wish is there to provide some hope and strength to get through those tough times."
Ms. McConnell said the foundation rarely experiences severe disagreements between parents over a wish.
But the family's donation drive rendered the dispute moot.
Ms. Hughes said she plans to donate some surplus funds to a Toledo Hospital charity and possibly set aside money for McKenna's college education.
Despite the trip being called into question, Ms. Hughes said she had tried to keep her daughter's hopes high that the family would still make it to Florida.
"She's been talking about nothing but [Disney World] for the past three months," Ms. Hughes said. "She keeps getting her suitcase out and trying to pack it."
Although McKenna has been unwavering in her desire to travel to Disney, she isn't so sure what characters she is most excited to meet when she gets there.
"My favorite is Princess and the Frog," McKenna said as she hugged a doll from The Little Mermaid. "No, my favorite is Cinderella."
Contact Mel Flanagan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6087.
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