Wish granters Martha Rydzak and Kathy Derrick met Mia, a 12-year-old girl with a kidney tumor who wished to go to Japan, only days before receiving news that her condition would make it impossible for her to travel.
“We discussed it with Mia, her family and her doctors and determined that we could still create an incredible Japanese wish experience, even without the travel,” said Kathy, who granted 10 wishes prior to Mia’s. “It was ‘all hands on deck’ after that. We started planning on Wednesday and had everything ready by Saturday thanks to local support.”
Make-A-Wish Arizona staff ordered the supplies needed to create an amazing Japanese experience for Mia, and Martha and Kathy came up with a plan – one that would need some additional support. Luckily, two of their fellow wish granters, Kerry Cowen and Stacey Norris, were available to help.
“I saw on Facebook that they needed some extra help, and even though I didn’t know the wish child, I was available and wanted to contribute,” said Kerry, who has been a volunteer for Make-A-Wish Arizona for 10 years.
Stacey was already working on three other wishes, but she still wanted to help. “It is heartbreaking when our wish kids have to look at different options for their wishes due to their illness,” she said. “I wanted to do whatever I could to help bring Mia happiness through her wish.”
On Saturday, the four volunteers decorated a private room in the hospital, creating a Japanese garden with banners and paper lanterns. Martha and Kathy secured authentic Japanese food from local restaurant Mr. An’s Teppan Steak & Sushi Bar.
“The restaurant’s staff came in before the restaurant opened to prepare the food,” said Kathy. “I am always amazed by the kindness of our local businesses when it comes to supporting our wish kids.”
Kerry also called friends to produce a special surprise. “Mia loves anime, and I knew some friends who had great anime costumes, so I asked them to come dressed as the characters.”
The surprises didn’t end there – the team arranged for authentic Japanese dancers to perform at the hospital, and Martha worked with Mia’s parents to have Mia’s cats join the party.
“I knew how much Mia loved her cats, and she hadn’t gotten to see them since she’d been in the hospital,” Martha said.
When Mia came downstairs, she found her own little piece of Japan waiting for her, with all her family and wish granters there to celebrate her wish being granted.
Mia played with her cats, ate Japanese cuisine and was dressed in a real kimono shipped from Japan just for her. But for Martha, the best part of the day was watching Mia’s face when the Japanese dancers performed.
“When she saw them start to dance, her face lit up,” Martha said. “After seeing how hard the past week had been for her, it was wonderful to see her smile.”
Mia’s wish was granted – all thanks to volunteer teamwork.
“This experience proves how Make-A-Wish Arizona is a community. I never once felt like Martha and I were on our own trying to put this together. It’s incredible to feel so much support within a group of volunteers,” said Kathy.
Even though Martha has granted 12 wishes, she knows that this experience will go down as one of her most memorable wish experiences because of the beautiful surprise they were able to give Mia.
“I encourage anyone looking to create joy in this world to consider becoming a volunteer for Make-A-Wish Arizona,” said Martha. “When people come together to help these kids, anything is possible.”