Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Giving Kids the WORLD

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Giving Kids the WORLD

Article excerpt

John Goode has lived every day as if it was his last. He was born with Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome, a rare, genetically inherited immunodeficiency disorder characterized by eczema, recurring bloody diarrhea, an increased number of platelets, a tendency to bleed, and infections--mostly in the ear. The Goodes were told that very few children with John's disease ever lived to see their second birthday.

However, John has lived far beyond his second birthday--fighting his disorder every step of the way. When he was 10, his condition worsened and his family was told he needed a bone marrow transplant. John's doctor recommended he make a wish so he could experience something happy and memorable. John decided that he wanted to visit Walt Disney World. "I wanted to have a memory our whole family would enjoy," John remembers, "I wanted something all of us would remember forever." John and his family were granted a wish vacation to Central Florida by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois. John's mother, Beverly, smiles as she remembers, "They told us first about Disney, but then they told us about Give Kids The World."

The magical village

Give Kids The World (GKTW) is a non-profit organization in Kissimmee, Florida, that makes wishes come true for terminally ill children, and their families, from around the world. The GKTW Village is a child's fantasy with a Gingerbread House restaurant, a waterpark, and a Castle of Miracles with a wishing well and free video games. Families stay at the Village free of charge and enjoy a joyful visit to the Central Florida attractions. Since opening its gates in 1989, GKTW has brought more than 34,000 families from around the world.

When the Goode's checked in, they received complimentary passes to Walt Disney World, Sea World of Florida, and Universal Studios Florida. They also received a complimentary meal at the Hard Rock Cafe, Orlando, and at the Medieval Times Dinner Show. (Everything included in a visit to these attractions is donated to GKTW by the attractions themselves.)

"I will never forget how I felt when we pulled up to our villa," Beverly recalls with emotion. "Everything was just for us--and it was filled with so many little special touches: the refrigerator was full, there was suntan lotion, laundry detergent, and a Mickey Mouse phone so we could make free calls home. The boys had their own room and their own bathroom!" John interrupts, "We each had our own sink!"

The rest of the week was a magical experience for John, his five-year-old brother Ryne, and their parents. The special button John wore helped the Goode's move ahead of the long lines in the theme parks and allowed them entrance into VIP lounges so they could cool off. Everywhere they went, Beverly remembers, "We were treated like royalty. And, for the first time in 10 years, John was not sick!"

GKTW has become an escape from the routine of doctors and hospitals. It is a place where dreams come true and the real world seems far away. Behind every smile, is the caring heart and commitment one man made to children with few tomorrows.

How it all began

50 years ago, Henri Landwirth was a young boy in Belgium who lost his family, his home, and his childhood to the Nazis during World War II. Motivated by the hardship and heartache he endured as a survivor of five concentration camps, Henri vowed to one day help better the lives of others. In 1986, Henri was a successful hotelier in Central Florida. One day, he was asked if he would provide accommodations for a little girl who was dying. She had a last wish to meet Mickey Mouse. Henri was touched by her stow and immediately agreed to help her family, but the child died before her wish could take place. Henri soon learned that a large number of children with life-threatening illnesses wish to meet Mickey Mouse. Further investigation made him aware of the challenges faced by wish granting organizations when putting together such a trip. …

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