MONROE — Tricia DiPietro heard about the Make-A-Wish Foundation through her son’s school in Old Bridge.
Year after year, students in the Old Bridge Public Schools write letters for the Make-A-Wish Foundation through the Macy’s Believe campaign in November and December. Student A.J. Silvestri, himself a Make-A-Wish kid, has been instrumental in collecting hundreds of thousands of letters for the campaign in the past few years and delivering them to Macy’s in the Brunswick Square Mall, East Brunswick.
For every letter delivered, Macy’s donates $2 to Make-A-Wish, which grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.
“We have participated in the campaign around the holidays,” DiPietro said. “A.J.’s mom Kerry Ann is the counselor at my son’s school so we heard about Make-A-Wish … little did we know we would ever think we would need it in that way.”
In 2017, DiPietro’s son, Thomas, who was 7 at the time, was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that grows in bones or soft tissue around the bones.
“He went through a full year of chemotherapy radiation,” she said.
DiPietro said the Make-A-Wish Foundation was mentioned to them through their social worker contact at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and ProCure Proton Therapy Center.
“At the time, you are going back and forth to and from radiation so a lot is going on,” she said.
In December 2017, the family went through the Make-A-Wish interview process where Thomas made a wish at the Samuel and Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place in Monroe Township to swim with dolphins.
During the wish process, Thomas also explained he found volcanoes particularly interesting when learning about them in school and when he was home-schooled. He said he had always heard stories from people who have gotten the chance to experience visiting them in person.
In April 2018, Thomas and his family departed on a trip of a lifetime to Hawaii to experience the stories he heard in person. From exploring the tropical island and swimming in the resort pool to a special luau celebration and his ultimate wish of swimming with dolphins, Thomas’ wish experience was one he’ll never forget.
“It was a good time,” Thomas said. “I got to swim with dolphins and hike a volcano.”
Thomas and his family hiked up Diamond Head Crater, a volcanic tuff cone on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The trip enabled Thomas and his family the ability to forget about his illness, where he had to endure constant doctor visits and difficult medical treatments hooked up to various machines.
“Everything was effortless,” DiPietro said. “I didn’t have to worry about a thing. He had the best time swimming with the dolphins. He talks about it everywhere we go. It was a chance for him to not worry about doctors or being hooked up to machines, he got to do what he wanted.”
DiPietro said the wish trip was one week long and the family extended the trip to explore more of the island. She said Thomas had finished his chemotherapy in February and as of right now, Thomas has no evidence of the disease.
“The trip was nice for all four of us to spend some downtime and enjoy ourselves,” she said, noting their family also includes her husband Vincent and daughter Ava. “In the past year, we were not all together because of work, school, and running from one doctor to another.”
During his treatment, Thomas was home-schooled. On Sept. 6, Thomas, 9, started the fourth grade and is back in school.
Thomas’ wish was granted through funds raised by local Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurants as part of the 2018 “Month of Giving” campaign. In March, 60 Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurants throughout New Jersey joined forces with Make-A-Wish New Jersey to raise vital funds needed to aid the organization in their mission. The month-long customer-donation campaign culminated with the “Day of Giving,” a day when Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurants donated 100 percent of the day’s sales. The campaign raised some $377,000 for Make-A-Wish New Jersey.
The wish for Thomas is among more than 35 wishes being granted through the “Month of Giving” campaign.
Make-A-Wish New Jersey, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary, has granted more than 10,000 wishes since its inception in 1983, a record 530 wishes last year alone.
For more information about Make-A-Wish New Jersey, visit nj.wish.org.
Contact Kathy Chang at email@example.com.