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New Make-A-Wish study gives eye-opening insight into the mental and emotional impact of wish-granting for children battling critical illnesses.
Nathan was born with a nervous system disorder that impacts nearly every aspect of his life—his ability to walk, talk, eat, and interact with others. At only 11 years old, Nathan has undergone more than 10 brain surgeries and experienced frequent periods of isolation. His mom, Judith, has watched with a broken heart as Nathan slowly began noticing that his illness makes him different from his peers.
“He gets really frustrated,” Judith said. “He says, ‘Mommy, why can’t I be like everybody else?’ We all suffer because of his illness… I gave up a lot of things to try to give him a quality of life.”
During the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that mental-health related emergency department visits increased by 24% for children aged 5 to 11 and 31% for children aged 12 to 17. The pandemic has exacerbated the traumatic stress that 90% of Make-A-Wish families already report feeling as a result of the fear and anxiety that come with battling a critical illness.
A new study conducted by Make-A-Wish reveals the lasting, long-term impact a wish can have on wish children and families facing trauma stemming from a critical illness. The Wish Impact Study shows how a positive intervention like a wish can help overcome and heal the trauma.
“At a time when families are dealing with unplanned hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments, a wish can provide children with the chance to reclaim a piece of their childhood and a sense of control,” said Shoba Sriktantan, MD, FAAP, chair of the Make-A-Wish National Medical Advisory Council. “After coming back from a wish, many of my patients exhibit a renewed sense of hope and greater compliance with their treatment, which is why I—and many of my peers—consider a wish to be an important part of a child’s treatment plan.”
An online survey studied more than 3000 individuals split between 3 groups: parents of wish kids, wish alumni (ie, former wish recipients), and doctors. Results showed that, after their child’s wish was granted, 94% of parents recalled seeing improvements in their child’s emotional well-being, while 91% of parents reported that the wish gave their child a better chance of surviving their illness.
Wish alumni agreed that the wish improved their quality of life, brought their family closer together, boosted their self-esteem, and gave them hope for the future. Out of all alumni polled, 60% indicated that they had fully recovered from their illness, with many more expecting to get a clean bill of health in the near future. The statistic helps dispel the common misconception that children must have an end-of-life prognosis to be eligible for a wish.
Lastly, 95% of pediatric doctors reported that the wish improved their patients’ emotional and physical well-being, with 75% of the doctors stating that a wish could improve a child’s medical outcomes.
Through his wish, Nathan can finally realize his vision of sharing the power of music with others. “My wish is to be a singer,” Nathan said without hesitation, hope shining in his eyes.
“When we talk about Make-A-Wish, you see a light of hope on his face,” Judith said. “[His wish] hasn’t come true, but it’s something he’s looking forward to. You can tell he thinks life is going to be different after that.”
The release of the Wish Impact Study kicks off a month-long countdown to World Wish Day celebrated every year on April 29, the anniversary of the wish that inspired the founding of the organization 42 years ago.
Make-A-Wish has granted more than 340,000 wishes through 59 local chapters serving every community nationwide. To learn more about the Wish Impact Study and find your local chapter, visit wish.org.
Psychiatric Times™ is proud to partner with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of New Jersey in their mission to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.