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Tommy Austin with Chris Greicius, the child who inspired the founding of Make-A-Wish in 1980

Featured Article

When You Wish

The Transformative Power of a Wish Come True

Article by Laura L. Green

Photography by Becca Wood

Originally published in Cypress Lifestyle

Wishes are a foundational element of many childhood fairy tales, but they’re by no means childish. The prospect of a wish coming true can help someone summon the will to keep going, to find a path through the darkness, to find a strength they didn’t know they had. 

Granting the wish of a child who has a critical illness is more than just a nice thing to do. It can change the dynamic of treatment, says Brian Smith, director of communications and marketing for the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, an organization that has spent decades making wishes a reality for children across the U.S. and the world. 

“The great thing about Make-A-Wish is that all operations are geared to local work and involvement,” says Shelly Millwee, chief mission and strategy officer for the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana chapter. “Everything we do in our chapter is for the kids in those areas. When someone volunteers or donates to Make-A-Wish, they’re impacting kids they see at the store, sit next to at church, and wave to on the street each day. The impact is local.” Shelly says that right now in Montgomery County, around 135 children are waiting for wishes to be granted. 

Make-A-Wish was founded as the result of the desire to help a little boy in Arizona experience his lifelong dream of becoming a law enforcement officer. It was 1980, and 7-year-old Christopher Greicius had been diagnosed with leukemia. Through serendipitous circumstances, he became close friends with U.S. Customs Agent Tommy Austin. Tommy, who lives in The Woodlands, has traveled across the U.S. and the world in support of the organization that he helped to found and now serves as director emeritus of the Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana chapter.  

He recalls a fateful evening when Chris’s mother brought him over to see Tommy and his wife. “He was gray, his teeth were chattering, his hands were shaking. I knew it was close.” He was determined to make Chris’s dream of becoming a law officer come true. 

No one had ever done what Tommy and his law enforcement friends were envisioning. Yet they kept asking. Putting aside possible legal ramifications and cutting through the red tape, the Arizona Department of Public Safety agreed to help, making Chris an “officer for a day” with all the trimmings.

When Tommy called Chris to tell him what was going to happen. “His little voice was barely audible.” But something switched on inside of him when Tommy described what Chris was going to get to do—meet with the director of the Arizona DPS, receive a badge during a swearing-in ceremony, and take a ride in a DPS helicopter. All of a sudden, his entire demeanor changed, says Tommy. 

The morning of the ride, Chris called Tommy bright and early. “’I cleaned up my room, made my bed, had my shower. I’m ready to go!’ He was in the driveway when I pulled up. Ear-to-ear smile!”  This child who had been diagnosed with only a few days to live was transformed, says Tommy. 

Just how powerful a wish can be is revealed in a 2022 study funded by Make-A-Wish and conducted by an independent firm that surveyed more than 3,400 participants including healthcare providers, wish kids and their parents, and Make-A-Wish volunteers. “One hundred percent of medical providers said the wish experience provides a child with improved emotional well-being. 98 percent said it improves a child’s physical well-being. 95 percent of parents said the wish brought the family closer together, and 95 percent of wish kids said the experience helped them overcome feelings of sadness--they felt more hopeful about the future after their wish was granted. 

Shelly says wish requests run the gamut of possibilities: special trips, backyard playgrounds, shopping sprees, becoming a superhero, a fireman--or a police officer, just as Chris Greicius wished. Though some wish kids suffer from terminal illnesses, over 70 percent live into adulthood. A significant number go on to become Make-A-Wish volunteers themselves, says Shelly. 

The code that law enforcement officers live by is to “never give up, no matter what. You never desert your partner, even unto death, and Chris was going to be my partner,” says Tommy Austin. Chris’s wish was granted on a Monday, and “Chris wasn’t supposed to live through Tuesday.” The wish helped him survive for 11 more precious days.

“When someone volunteers or donates to Make-A-Wish, they’re impacting kids they see at the store, sit next to at church, and wave to on the street each day. The impact is local.” 

  • A "unicorn" greets Janie in Bear Creek Park, Houston.
  • Nova's strikes a joyful pose in front of her princess-themed playhouse.
  • Tommy Austin with Chris Greicius, the child who inspired the founding of Make-A-Wish in 1980
  • Airline miles and hotel points can be donated, making possible trips like Mariana's, who wished to visit Hawaii.
  • Wish kid Lourdes with Astros second baseman Jose Altuve

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