Alex Newton, 13, was given the chance to work with a naturalist and explore Maui, Hawaii, through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the summer, an opportunity his mother didn't think he was capable of having.
"I had such a misunderstanding about Make-A-Wish," Claudia Newton said. "I thought it was only for kids with terminal illnesses."
Alex suffers from pediatric strokes, which qualified him for Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Everything fell into place quickly, Claudia said, after organizers at Make-A-Wish spoke with Alex's team of doctors.
"Then the fun part started," Claudia said. Alex was told to write down three wishes.
The first -- a trip to Siberia to visit a university domesticating wolves -- was quickly shut down by Alex's doctors because it was deemed unsafe. The other, an island off the coast of Africa, was also deemed unsafe. Because Alex doesn't play sports, his mother said, he spends his time studying nature and reading issues of National Geographic, which is where he learned of the wolf domestication program.
Other times, he's watching the History channel with his dad.
So, in June, the family of five packed their bags and headed off on a 10-day trip to Maui, where they snorkeled in an underground volcano, took a helicopter ride and explored parts of the island that are outside the realm of possibility for regular tourists.
"Just to have a child with a critical illness, it takes a toll on the family and impacts the family," Claudia said. "So just to have the five of us together was our Make-A-Wish as a family."
During the trip, Alex took a photo of the silhouettes of palm trees on the beach. Five months later, Alex was standing on stage in front of 400 people at the Celebrating Wishes Make-A-Wish gala in Greenwich, holding the photo, which had been enlarged, framed and signed by him, for an auction at the event. The photo was auctioned off for $6,000.
At the gala, which raised more than $525,000 for the organization, Alex was joined by another Make-A-Wish participant, Blake Katzman, of Westport.
Blake and Alex met before the gala and have since remained friends.
Claudia said they have "forged this great, great friendship" because the two have much in common. Alex's blood is too thick, which causes his strokes, and Blake has hemophilia, which results in his blood being too thin.
"Because of medical issues, they can't play sports," Claudia said. "That's tough as a 13-year-old boy, to not be able to participate in anything that involves impact."
Both of the boys' wishes involved traveling to tropical locations: Alex to Hawaii and Blake to the Galapagos Islands to swim with penguins.
Pediatric stroke affects 25 in every 100,000 newborns and 12 in 100,000 children under the age of 18, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, where Alex is treated.
Additionally, stroke is the sixth-leading cause of death in children
Blake and Alex worked together before the gala to create a video that showed how the last few years have been hard for them, Claudia said.
"Make-A-Wish gave him something to look forward to," Claudia said. "Now Make-A-Wish gives him something to think about while he's in a three-hour MRI or going through testing."
The family will continue to stay involved with Make-A-Wish now that they know the power of the organization, Claudia said.
"It's exciting to be able to help in the process of offering this to other families," Claudia said.
The Celebrating Wishes gala is the primary fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Connecticut, according to Michael Dominick, the community and media relations manager.
"This was a great opportunity to share with those in the room about what a wish is," Dominick said. "It's not just kids who go to Disney."
On average, Make-A-Wish Connecticut grants 150 wishes per year, according to Dominick.
The average cost of a wish is $10,000, and the Connecticut chapter never has had to deny a wish due to lack of funding.
Since the organization's inception in 1986, more than 2,300 wishes have been granted in Connecticut.
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