Charity makes dreams come true for sick children

Charity makes dreams come true for sick children

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By TEARSA SMITH
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Children fighting the harshest of diseases have tough childhoods filled with painful medical treatments, and they may struggle to keep a good attitude in the face of fear.

A local charity is working to put a smile on those children's faces by making impossible dreams come true.

For 25 years, The Dream Connection has helped make dreams come true for East Tennessee children that are battling life-altering diseases.

The parents of these children must not only juggle being a parent, but also a caregiver to a child with intense daily needs. They most also cope with paying off huge medical bills.

It leaves little to no room for fun, and money for vacations or special trips.

Jessica McMurray, 16, made her routine trip down from Sullivan County to East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville to undergo a platelet transfusion. She was a bit tired, but she knew the drill.

"Our lives changed on June 20, 2001, when our doctor called and said they found a brain tumor," Cindi McMurray, Jessica's mother said. "It's like everything stopped." 

For Jessica, it's been a long road to recovery. She misses her friends, her high school and the thrill of playing on her basketball team.

"Well, I say it happened to me for a reason, and I am glad it happened to me instead of a little kid," McMurray said.

Within hours of meeting Jessica, she spiked a fever and had horrible chills. So much so, she didn't want to keep filming.

She said days like that are hard.

"They are scary for me and they are scary for my mom," McMurray said.

For those children who struggle with such harsh circumstances everyday, days of enjoyment can be few and fair between. That is where The Dream Connection steps up to the plate.

Bebe Vogel chairs the board of directors for The Dream Connection.

"I think it is extremely important that you can give them a moment, a week, a day, whatever their dream is, meet their star, Kenny Chesney concert and meet him," Vogel said. "It gives them a chance to forget what they are going through."

She said they fulfill about 60 wishes a year, depending on the generosity of East Tennessee. None of the donated money goes towards overhead, like supplies.

Vogel said they see many types of patients at The Dream Connection.

"Oh goodness, you have everything from Spina Bifida to brain tumors to different kinds of cancers," she said.

All the kids come from referrals from East Tennessee Children's Hospital or the University of Tennessee Medical Center. Officials meet with the kids and their families, then push them to dream big.

McMurray's big dream was to meet the Lady Vols basketball team, and shoot a few hoops with them.

It happened.

"I met seven of them whenever I had my surgery and that was Kamiko Williams and Cierra Burdick are my favorites and Tabor Spani. I love them girls. They've been real supportive of me and they check on me," McMurray said.

Vogel said that dream didn't cost The Dream Connection anything, so it was time to move to dream number two: a chance to see a polar bear, her favorite animal.

For that dream, Jessica and her parents were sent to Alaska

"Oh it was overwhelming cause I thought they were little itty bitty things and they are huge," McMurray said.

She never imagined she would end up in Alaska, at the Anchorage Zoo, but she did. Not only that, but  she also held the position of zoo keeper for a day.

There were other firsts on her Alaska trip. She had the chance to fly, cruise and ride a train all for the first time. She was also given VIP treatment. McMurray was up close and personal with the animals and behind the scenes of the zoo at no cost to her family.

McMurray's parent's couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity given to their daughter.

"No, no, without Dream Connection I would have never thought to arrange that," Cindi McMurray said.

Vogel said the reward for her and the people that work for The Dream Connection is simple.

"It's a way just to give back and to put a smile on their face for that brief moment," she said.

The Dream Connection is always looking for services to be donated, not just money. Many of the dreams they arrange are possible through companies that give them deep discounts and often free services.

A local doctor has taken on the mission to help raise a huge amount of money for The Dream Connection. His initiative has the possibility of brining in tens of thousands of dollars.

Dr. James Choo is climbing the highest peak in Antarctica as a fundraiser for the charity.

He is an experienced climber, and when he heard about the organization, he knew he could make an impact.

Following extensive training, Choo will take on Vinson Massif in December.

"Right now my personal goal, I have never done this before, $16,067, a dollar for every foot," Choo said. "Right now, we are at $12,000 but the Lucille Family Foundation has agreed to match the funds up to $16,000."

He says he is fired up about the project. There is no minimum amount to pledge toward his climb. To pledge, visit this special section of The Dream Connection website.

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