16-year-old stroke victim turns pilot for a day as charity grants his wish

Lutfil Edy Widodo got to fly a flight simulator at the Airbus Asia Training Centre in Seletar Aerospace Park in February. He even got decked out in a pilot's uniform that Make-A-Wish Singapore had made specially for him, and also met some pilots, who
Lutfil Edy Widodo got to fly a flight simulator at the Airbus Asia Training Centre in Seletar Aerospace Park in February. He even got decked out in a pilot's uniform that Make-A-Wish Singapore had made specially for him, and also met some pilots, who shared their experiences with him.PHOTO: MAKE-A-WISH SINGAPORE

When Lutfil Edy Widodo was only eight years old, a stroke left him unable to talk or walk for a few months.

What he had was a condition known as brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which is a tangle of abnormal blood vessels in the brain. When these rupture and bleed, a stroke can result.

Lutfil underwent emergency surgery and was placed under a medically induced coma for about 20 days. When he came out of the coma, he could neither talk nor walk. It took a few months of intensive therapy before he regained his speech and mobility.

Now 16, Lutfil can walk, albeit with a limp. He jokes that his left hand, unable to grip or hold anything, is "for display" only.

And he suffers from seizures.

"Before (the brain AVM), I could do many things like cycling, football and badminton," he said. "I lost friends because some people laughed at me as I was walking unsteadily. I feel different."

But one thing he never lost was his dream of becoming a pilot as he has been fascinated with planes since he was a boy.

In February this year, his dream came true, thanks to Make-A-Wish Singapore, a charity which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

He became pilot for a day, when he got to fly a flight simulator at the Airbus Asia Training Centre in Seletar Aerospace Park.

"I felt so excited, like I was really flying a plane. It was really memorable," said Lutfil, who was decked out in a pilot's uniform that the charity had made specially for him.

He also met some pilots, who shared their experiences with him.

His 46-year-old mother Rohaizah Mohd Hashim, an engineer, said the experience has been a morale booster for Lutfil, the second of her four children.

In the past five years, an average of 107 children a year have had their wishes granted by Make-A-Wish Singapore.

Next Monday is World Wish Day.

On April 29, 1980, a seven-year-old American boy and leukaemia patient Chris Grecius got his wish to be a policeman.

With the help of the local police in Arizona, he spent the day riding in a police helicopter, was sworn in as an honorary patrolman and given a specially made uniform.

That small act sparked the creation of Make-A-Wish and the beginning of the global wish-granting movement.

The Singapore chapter of Make-A-Wish was set up in 2002.

Ms Leanora Lyn Gaffar, the charity's senior manager of wish granting, said that a wish journey, when designed to complement a child's medical treatment, "improves their willingness to comply with the treatment, boosts their response to treatment and positively impacts their physical and mental health".

The charity has had some unusual wishes over the years, including that of Theresa Thang, who at 13 years old asked for an "aquarium of frogs" when she was battling brain cancer. The Singapore Zoo gave her two frogs. Ms Thang, now 26, is a vet.

Then there is Sarah Tan, who at 17 years old and with end-stage renal failure, wished to create a short animation video based on a dream of her late grandmother, whom she was very close to.

The charity took her to an animation studio where, over the course of 10 months, she was heavily involved in creating the video.

Today, Ms Tan is a 22-year-old polytechnic student.

Said Ms Leanora: "She keeps the video on her phone to remind herself to never give up on a project, however long it takes, as the end result is always worth the effort. It motivates her to study hard, work hard and play hard."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline '16-year-old stroke victim turns pilot for a day as charity grants his wish'. Print Edition | Subscribe