On a charitable flight of fancy

North Pole: For 70 pediatric cancer patients, BWI becomes the gateway to Santa and smiles for a day.

December 14, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Ethan Michael Grant, TyRee Moore, a 3-year-old Baltimore cancer patient who has just one kidney, strode off an airplane ramp at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning, walked straight up to Santa Claus and tugged on his beard.

"It was soft," said TyRee, who along with 69 other area children with cancer took a flight to the "North Pole," otherwise known as Gate B-10.

The gate was closed to airport traffic and decorated to look like Santa's hometown for the Friendship Flight to the North Pole, a charity event that took dozens of the area's smallest cancer patients on a fantasy trip for Christmas.

The children, ages 3 to 12, were accompanied by their parents and siblings. All are affiliated with the Carol Jean Cancer Foundation Inc., a Maryland nonprofit organization.

At 8:30 a.m., the expectant travelers went to Gate C-2 and boarded a Southwest Airlines flight that was headed to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. With wide eyes, they toured the cockpit, and were allowed to touch the controls.

Twins Aaron and Eric Ware, 6, of Prince George's County, sat in the pilot and co-pilot seats, respectively.

"I got to push button after button after button," said Eric, who was found to have an inoperable brain tumor eight months ago.

Their mother, Angela Ware, said they looked "absolutely identical" before Eric became sick. Now there's a noticeable difference between the two.

When it was time for the plane to "take off," the little ones sat in their seats and buckled up. All were told to pull down their window shades because the light from the North Pole would hurt their eyes.

The plane circled the runway for about 30 minutes, as the children played games, and then arrived at Gate B-10.

When the small globe-trotters walked off the ramp and into the airport, they arrived in a winter wonderland complete with makeshift snow, elves, reindeer, a Christmas tree and lots of presents.

"Oh!" exclaimed TyRee, who headed straight for Santa at the end of a long red carpet sprinkled with glitter.

Eric and Aaron unwrapped their Spiderman-themed gifts - Eric got a Webcopter and Aaron got a sleeping bag.

"Now I can run away from home, of course," said Aaron.

The twins were thrilled with their presents, but they said they were not fooled by the festivities.

"We are supposed to be in snow, but this isn't snow," Eric said. "It's teared-up pieces of paper."

Aaron's observation: "When we were on the plane, we were going around in circles, right?"

Both noted that the North Pole is supposed to be very cold.

On the other side of the North Pole, Ethan Michael Grant, 8, of Arlington, Va., unwrapped a starter pack of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards.

"I got all that I asked for," said Ethan, who was found to have a rare form of cancer in his shoulder, thigh and neck in October. "This is perfect."

Ethan was there with his parents, Cynthia and David Grant, and 6-year-old sister Isabella.

For six weeks, Ethan was receiving chemotherapy treatments. Now, he has daily injections of white blood cells, his father said.

Ethan's hair became scarce because of the treatments, so David Grant let his son play barber and give him a haircut. It didn't work out as planned.

"I cut my Dad's hair half bald," Ethan said, laughing.

After that messy haircut left David Grant's hair bald on top and bushy around the ears, he decided to shave it all.

Yesterday's event -- the first held at BWI since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- lasted several hours, as the children unwrapped presents and had sandwiches, juice and fruit. The presents were sponsored by Ron Deneau of Deneau Construction in Gaithersburg.

When it was time for the North Pole to close and all the children to go home, they walked through a magic door and were suddenly back at BWI, right where they began.

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