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'Wags to Wishes' giving kids hope as they battle illness

Make-A-Wish Oregon grants about 270 wishes to kids in a typical year. They've figured out how to still deliver a warm and fuzzy feeling with puppies.

PORTLAND, Ore. — From the outside, you probably wouldn’t say 6-year-old Cameron Kirks and 17-year-old Tyler Samuel are living the dream.

“School was not fun especially being in high school, especially now,” said Tyler, now a high school senior.

Tyler was diagnosed with sickle cell disease when he was six. Cameron was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis at age 4, a rare cancer where excessive immune system cell build up in the body.

Credit: Ashley Kirks
The Kirks family at Disney World

“It was a very emotional ride for the whole family. But he is the bravest little boy, I've ever met,” said Cameron’s mom Ashley Kirks.

After 22 rounds of chemotherapy, Cameron is cancer-free. Over the last year and half, Tyler’s had few issues health-wise too. Both of them were granted wishes by Make-A-Wish Oregon. Tyler went to Florida and went shark fishing. Cameron and his family went to Disney World last year just before everything shut down.

Credit: Tyler Samuel
Tyler Samuel on a shark fishing trip, a wish granted by Make-A-Wish Oregon

"We work to grant the wish of every eligible child living in our community who is battling a critical illness,” said Kaitlyn Bolduc, public relations and communications manager for Make-A-Wish Oregon. “We know that child's illness does not stop for a pandemic, which means that wishes can't stop either.”

Make-A-Wish Oregon grants about 270 wishes in a typical year to kids in Oregon and Southwest Washington. There are another 300 kids waiting on their wishes, but the organization is still listening.

Credit: Make-A-Wish Oregon
Make-A-WIsh Oregon "Wags to Wishes"

“Hope is not canceled,” said Bolduc. “We just had to work harder, figure out a way to get it to them safely. And honestly, we are determined to do everything we can to make sure these kids get their one true wish.”

With travel off the table for now, four times as many kids have wished for four-legged companions, especially puppies.

“They want that companionship right now. During the pandemic, or even somebody to comfort them during the treatments that they're going through whatever it is that they're feeling” Bolduc said.

The repeated requests inspired a “Wags to Wishes” campaign, an online photo contest open from March 1-15. A suggested $5 donation lets you choose your favorite from about 20 entrants, including Cameron and Tyler with their pups, Lucy and Benji respectively. All the money goes to kids waiting on their wishes.

“It’s just extra special to hear about wish kids like Tyler and Cameron, who were so impacted by their wish come true, that they want to help make future wishes come true any way they can. And to watch them fundraise for their peers is pretty incredible,” said Bolduc.

“Helping other kids get wishes granted, it means a lot to our family that we can give back, Ashley said.

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