A story of medicine and magic

“Pediatric oncologists have been burned by alternative medicines.” As he said this, Dr. Fahner’s compassion for his colleagues was palpable, even over the phone. “Too often it results in delayed or missed diagnoses.”

We talked to James Fahner, MD, chairman of the Make-A-Wish medical advisory council, to get some insight into the wish experience from the point of view of a medical professional. See3 is working with Make-A-Wish to help them tell more powerful stories - stories that speak to the impact of a wish on everyone touched by the experience, stories that illustrate the urgency of granting those wishes, and the need for donors and potential volunteers to step up. This work matters. Wishes make a huge difference in the lives of kids with critical illnesses, and, importantly, the research to prove it is on the way.

James Fahner, MD, chairman of the Make-A-Wish medical advisory council

James Fahner, MD, chairman of the Make-A-Wish medical advisory councilTalking to Dr. Fahner made for fabulous education.  

“But with a wish… Nobody in my hospital ever views a wish as ‘over-promising.’ The family will ask if we can reschedule this chemo or that treatment, and we’ll say sure, of course…”

Whoa, what? Rescheduling chemo for, say, a trip to Disney?

“Well, I’m a Make-A-Wish snob,” Dr. Fahner laughed. “Look, there are some things we can’t accommodate for. But treatments have some flexibility… And a Make-A-Wish trip isn’t just another family trip. No, this is something magical. We see changes in the child at every point. Before the trip, there’s anticipation. Now, these are kids who have had every choice taken away from them. They deal with the clinic schedule, chemo, isolation, unpredictability in their illness or treatment. A wish is something that’s entirely theirs. The wish itself - whatever it is - becomes a port in the storm for the entire family. And we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of our understanding of the long-term health implications. These kids come back renewed. They are more compliant, they take their treatment better. The whole family is more resilient because of this experience.”

Dr. Fahner loves this work. You can tell in the tone of his voice, the way he lights up when he talks about his staff sharing that the Make-A-Wish volunteers are coming through today, the slight crack in his voice when he mentions the wish kid who wanted to meet Rapunzel because, as her mom told him, “She’s really excited for her own hair to start growing back.”

In Dr. Fahner’s experience, one of the most powerful things he’s seen is wish kids growing up to go into the medical field, or work for Make-A-Wish.

“What more powerful testament to the undeniable power of a wish is there?”

He really talks like this.

“There is just an overwhelming amount of personal and financial stress during a prolonged medical crisis; families can begin to apart socially and psychologically when child has cancer. And you can’t fix that with test tubes and cell cultures. That kind of care has to come from a very different place.”

That comes, it turns out, when the community comes together to support the family of a kid with a critical illness. It happens through Make-A-Wish.

Dr. Fahner has been involved with Make-A-Wish for over twenty years now. And he gets it.

“Storytelling is the most powerful strategy available to folks on the front lines of wishes and health care.”

Make-A-Wish staff are learning to find and elevate their authentic stories, like Dr. Fahner’s. They’re seeing that with over 300,000 wishes under their belts, that’s a lot of moments of impact - and not just on the wish kid. That’s a lot of stories to tell.

And it’s making a difference (check out our white paper for more).

You’ve got stories, too - we know it. Are you ready to unleash them?

Author: Miriam Brosseau
  • Storytelling
  • Make-A-Wish
  • Empowerment