Grant-A-Wish spreads holiday cheer to pediatric oncology patients

December 16, 1991|By Greg Tasker

A holiday carnival at Martin's West in Woodlawn yesterday featured typical children's party fare: red and green balloons, hamburgers and french fries, magicians, face-painting and games.

The normalcy was intended because the guests -- 120 children from the oncology units at Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland Hospital and Sinai Hospital -- have led anything but normal lives since being diagnosed with cancer.

"We wanted these children and their families to get together in a relaxed atmosphere and socialize in a different setting," said Brian R. Morrison, executive director of The Grant-A-Wish Foundation and The Children's House at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Grant-A-Wish Foundation provides a variety of services to lTC children with life-threatening diseases and their families.

Besides granting special wishes, such as trips to Disney World, the charity sponsors events such as the party.

For many parents like Mike and Della Polk, whose son Christopher, 9, died from leukemia more than a year ago, the annual event is a reunion with friends made during hospital stays.

"When you spend as much time as you have with these people, they become like family," said Mr. Polk, an exporter who lives in Baltimore.

Although Mr. Polk and his family appeared to enjoy the merriment, the day was not without painful memories.

"Some of these kids remind me of Christopher," Mr. Polk said. "My wife's had a tough time here, but it's good therapy for us to be here. We need to remember. We can never forget the disease or the people who have the disease."

The Polks shared a table with Mary Cain and her daughter, Angela, 11, who befriended Christopher at Johns Hopkins. Angela's cancer has been in remission, her mother said.

"You don't forget these children," said Mrs. Cain, a financial service representative who lives in Reisterstown.

"It's good for the kids to come here and touch base with one another and see children who are doing well."

Debbie Miller of Edgemere said the party gives children like her 10-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who has a brain tumor, "as much a normal life as possible in an abnormal situation."

"The sad part is that there are a lot of new faces," Mr. Polk said. "It doesn't change the outlook of the day but it is sad to see so many new kids that have been diagnosed."

"It makes Christmas meaningful," said Robert Leeman, a retired police officer who helped found the Anne Arundel County chapter of The Grant-A-Wish Foundation.

"You get tickled pink watching these kids."

Mr. Leeman said about 30 percent of the children would not return next year.

Besides games and face-painting, the children, some with bald heads resulting from chemotherapy and others in wheelchairs, were entertained by cheerleaders from Towson State University and a variety of cartoon characters including The Cat in the Hat, Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Each child walked away from the party with a gift -- games like Candy Land and Cootie or Barbie dolls and cars, courtesy of local businesses.

The food, entertainment and use of the hall were donated as well, Mr. Morrison said.

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