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"We believed that he was the strongest boy in the world; we did not want to let him go"

145 children had their wishes granted last year.

WHEN FIVE YEAR old Ondrej was born in Ireland in 2009 doctors told his mother that he was a seriously ill little baby.

Vlasta Byrtusova’s first baby boy had died a couple of years earlier of a congenital heart defect and she said she could not believe she had to face the horrible news again. At Crumlin Hospital she was told her little boy had Left-Heart Syndrome and could die within a few hours or days if he did not undergo a high risk operation.

We believed that he was the strongest boy in the world; we did not want to let him go.

He was only two days old when he underwent his first open heart surgery using a new method. He proved he really was a strong boy and survived the procedure but his parents were told his life would still always be at risk.

“Life for my family was filled with a lot of fear, hopelessness and helplessness,” Vlasta explained. “My other two boys, Jan aged 2.5 years and Matej aged 5 years at the time, had to spend most of the time with my parents and had to learn how to live without their mum while I spent a lot of time in hospital with their brother.”

Ondrej had his third open heart surgery when he was four years old but his prognosis is still not clear. Two out of four children with his condition to not reach their adulthood and for those who do, doctors still do not know how long they can survive without a complete heart transplant.

Two years ago, the little boy’s family started to think about doing something special for him. He was always fascinated with the movie Free Willy and wanted to train a killer whale. Another mother in the hospital told Vlasta about Make-A-Wish Ireland and she applied, telling the Irish charity about his favourite things and his dream to be a whale trainer.

In June 2014 volunteers from Make-A-Wish came to our house to meet Ondrej. They played wishing games and asked what he would like to see or to be, to have or to meet. They asked him what was his greatest wish. Ondrej was still talking about the killer whales and was so excited while talking about this.

Later that year the charity got in touch to offer the family a trip to Orlando, Florida to train a killer whale.

Source: Make a Wish Ireland

“It was the nicest moment ever when I saw my son so happy and joyful. I am very proud of him that he did it. He was absolutely brilliant when he trained Malia [the whale] showing her how to turn, kiss him, say yes or no, waving, splashing and shaking with her tongue and doing bubbles.”

Ondrej is just one of many children whose wishes were granted thanks to Make-A-Wish Ireland.

In 2014 the charity granted 145 wishes to children with life threatening illnesses, according to its annual report released yesterday. That’s an increase of 14% on the previous year.

Almost 90 wishes for trips to places like Disney World in Florida, Barcelona FC, the North Pole, Manchester United FC were granted.

Source: Make-A-Wish Ireland

Some children wished to have a tree house, a horse and carriage ride or a sensory bedroom. One got to be a naval officer for a day while another was a fashion designer for Barbie.

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Source: David Jones

And 31 children last year got to meet their heroes like American wrestling star John Cena or favourite bands like The Script.

Chief Executive of the charity, Susan O’Dwyer, said that without the unrelenting support in raising funds by the Irish public in 2014 this would not have been possible. The charity relies on the donations from the public as it does not receive government funding.

“Like all charities, Make-A-Wish Ireland had found fundraising very challenging in late 2013 and early 2014 and we were utterly reliant on the goodwill and generosity of fundraisers up and down the country and our corporate partners,” she said.

“The fundraising environment thankfully improved as the year went on.  We are now in a relatively strong financial position to support an estimated 175 wishes for the current year.”

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