Surprise trip to fulfill wish of ailing teen
WISH UPON A STAR
January 14, 2007
By CINDY WOJDYLA CAIN Staff Writer
JOLIET -- Jackie McConnell received a special delivery Saturday during the Wish Upon A Star benefit at St. Joseph Park.
The 15-year-old Braidwood girl was told she would attend the event to explain her own wish to the organization's board members and tell them more about her disease, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS.
But Jackie was interrupted by UPS deliverymen who brought a special envelope that fulfilled her wish: airfare, hotel, spending money and tickets to singer Justin Timberlake's Friday concert at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
"Oh my God, holy cow, wow," a shaking Jackie said as her wish was described by Don West, the organization's executive director.
"How cool is that?" an ecstatic West said.
Jackie's parents were equally thrilled.
"It's so wonderful, I'm thankful for the whole thing," said Jackie's dad, Mike McConnell.
Mike and Jackie's mom, Michelle, will accompany their daughter to Vegas, as will the girl's best friend, Ashly Hnetkovsky, 15, of Braidwood.
POTS is a heart disorder that affects the body's ability to appropriately adjust to gravity when a person stands. Jackie has been fighting the rare disorder for two years, and at times she cannot get out of bed or lift her head. She also has neurological complications.
Last year she spent nine months in the hospital, West told the large crowd gathered at the event. The teen has 17 doctors at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., he added.
Jackie's wish is the first to be granted this year. Last year, the organization granted 18 wishes for seriously ill children. Most of the kids wanted trips to Disney World. But there always are a few children who want something different, West said.
Erica Ceballos of Joliet, for instance, wanted to be blessed by the pope. Wish Upon A Star granted her wish in March. Ceballos, who suffers from bone cancer, thanked the organization during Saturday's benefit, and a letter she wrote about her trip to the Vatican was projected on a large screen in the hall.
"Thank you for your support, Wish Upon A Star," she told the crowd.
In November, the organization worked together with donated labor to build a hot tub and deck for another sick child.
"He thought it would last longer than a Disney trip," West said.
Saturday's benefit included kids' games, a co-ed softball tournament, four bands, baseball players, one astronaut and a variety of other activities.
Sheriff Paul Kaupas was introduced as next year's honorary chairman. He presented the group a check for $7,635 from last year's Sheriff's Challenge, a charity auto race that pits area police departments against one another.
Wish Upon A Star's annual benefit at St. Joseph Park is the organization's biggest fund-raising event of the year. The group has been granting wishes for sick children ages 3-18 for 28 years.
West thanked everyone who attended the event and all those people who work hard throughout the year to make the kids' wishes come true.
"If it wasn't for all the volunteers ... none of this would ever happen."