Chance to be 'pilot', thanks to Make-A-Wish

Nine-year-old Huo Xi Cheng sketching a picture of the Hawker 700 business jet which he got to see up close at Temasek Polytechnic's Aviation Academy on Friday.
Nine-year-old Huo Xi Cheng sketching a picture of the Hawker 700 business jet which he got to see up close at Temasek Polytechnic's Aviation Academy on Friday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

When Huo Xi Cheng gets on the plane for a family trip abroad, he can often be found hunched over in his seat, studying the emergency evacuation plan to find out more about how aircraft work, and how they are designed.

On Friday, the nine-year-old aviation enthusiast, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in August last year, had his wish of becoming a "pilot" granted by Make-A-Wish Foundation. During a visit to Temasek Polytechnic's Aviation Academy, volunteers used a flight simulator programme to teach him how to control a plane.

He also got to check out a plane - the Hawker 700 business jet - more closely for the first time in his life, and was allowed to enter the cockpit to look at its controls. Later, he tried his hand at sketching the plane, adding to a sizeable collection of other drawings he had made in the past.

"The most exciting part was when I was like a pilot, and could make the plane move in all directions," said Xi Cheng, referring to the simulator programme.

After three rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, Xi Cheng is now in remission and should be able to go back to school next year.

When he was ill, he lost his appetite and was unable to move around much due to his low blood platelet count. He said it resulted in him having black and blue marks on his skin.

Make-A-Wish needs about $1.8 million to operate each year. With that money, it employs eight staff and grants more than 100 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses every year. As of last month, 90 wishes have been granted.

The target for this year is 120 children, and 132 next year.

Xi Cheng's father, research scientist Huo Jian Xin, 48, said he was glad his son had the opportunity to go on such an outing.

"For parents of sick children, the situation can sometimes feel sad and hopeless. When they go through chemotherapy, there are many side effects such as hair loss that make the kids feel abnormal. But when Make-A-Wish came in... he was able to... feel like any other child with hopes and dreams for the future."

Yuen Sin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Chance to be 'pilot', thanks to Make-A-Wish'. Print Edition | Subscribe