Charity makes wishes come true for children like Lutfil who suffered a stroke when he was 8

Lutfil Edy Widodo, 16, had his dream of being a pilot granted - he got to try his hand at flying an airplane simulator.
Lutfil Edy Widodo, 16, had his dream of being a pilot granted - he got to try his hand at flying an airplane simulator.PHOTO: MAKE-A-WISH SINGAPORE

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.

In Lutfil's case, he underwent an 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, which is too weak 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."

Then there is also the loneliness that comes from not being able to fit in with peers who are in their prime of health.

 
 
 
 

One thing that has not changed is 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 specially made for him.

He also got to meet some pilots, who shared their experience with him.

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

Monday (April 29) is World Wish Day.

On that day in 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 would spark the creation of Make-A-Wish and the beginning of the global wish-granting movement.

Ms Leanora Lyn Gaffar, senior manager of wish granting at Make-A-Wish Singapore, said that the people who were involved in making Chris' wish come true were so moved by the experience that they pledged to continue sharing "the power of a wish".

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

She said: "A carefully planned wish journey is designed to complement a child's medical treatment - to provide the anticipation (and distraction) during the scariest period of treatment plan and give the child hope to look beyond the challenges of today (and) towards the possibilities of tomorrow. This improves their willingness to comply with the treatment, boosts their response to treatment and positively impacts their physical and mental health."

In Singapore, the wishes granted run the gamut from fanciful to practical.

Younger children typically want to become their favourite character, such as a Disney princess or a racing car driver.

The older ones may wish to, for instance, travel to a dream location or meet a celebrity.

Some of the more unusual wishes include that of Theresa Thang, 13, who asked for an "aquarium of frogs" when she was battling brain cancer.

She loves animals and the Singapore Zoo gave her two frogs. Ms Thang is now a 26-year-old vet.

There is also Sarah Tan, then a 17-year-old who had end-stage renal failure.

Her wish was to create a short animation video based on a dream of her late grandmother, whom she was very close to.

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

Ms Leanora said of Ms Tan, now a 22-year-old polytechnic student: "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 a worth the effort. It motivates her to study hard, work hard and play hard."

The charity has also granted practical wishes, such as requests for a motorised wheelchair.

For Lutfil, having his dream granted was a big morale booster, said his mother Rohaizah Mohd Hashim, 46, an engineer. He is the second of her four children.

Said Madam Rohaizah: "Lutfil knows he can't be a pilot because of his medical condition but the experience of flying a flight simulator is enough for him."