AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Our local Make-A-Wish Office is granting more wishes than ever before because more doctors are referring sick children in need.
Over the last two years, the organization has seen a 30 percent increase in doctor referrals of area children diagnosed with severe illnesses who are hoping for a wish. However, fundraising efforts aren't keeping up with the demand for wishes in our area.
The organization says a wish is a powerful thing for these children who are battling the unthinkable and they see the difference it can make in their medical journey.
One of those children is 9-year-old Tatum Schulte who is now cancer free. Her mom credits two things: God and Make-A-Wish.
In 2015, Tatum was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her leg and spine. After a leg amputation and finding out she was unresponsive to chemo, she was left with one option: a risky surgery that could cause her to lose the ability to walk.
That's when Make-A-Wish stepped in to give her and her family the trip of a lifetime.
"They told us that we could get to go to Hawaii," said Tatum Schulte. "When we went we got to go on a helicopter ride, swim with the dolphins and snorkel."
"We could actually go for seven days and not one time did we worry about a surgery or cancer or anything like that," added her mom, Shawna Schulte.
Schulte said the trip was exactly what they needed to prepare them for the difficult journey ahead. "It just puts kind of an extra bump in your step and you're ready to roll and you're ready to go and fight through the surgery. That's exactly what she did. Pathology reports came back a few weeks later and everything was gone. It was a miracle in itself."
Local healthcare officials say medical care in Amarillo is improving, which means children are staying here for treatment instead of being sent to bigger cities like Dallas or Houston. That's why our local Make-A-Wish is seeing an increase in referrals.
"Amarillo averages about 20 to 30 wishes per year," said Make-A-Wish Development Officer Alba Austin. "We already have about 21 and we're only in the month of May. So, I think we're right on track to probably at least grant more than 30 wishes this year."
Here's the problem: the average wish costs $8,000 to $9,000.
To grant more than 30 wishes this year, the organization anticipates spending more than $300,000 but has only been able to raise $89,000.
"So that puts obviously tremendous pressure on being able to fund those wishes," said Austin. "We are working on a deficit right now, living paycheck to paycheck or wish to wish."
More and more children like Tatum are hoping for wishes to help get them through their own medical journeys.
"To see that power of a wish is an impressive thing," said Northwest Healthcare System Child Life Specialist Becky Imel. "They come back as they are getting treatment and we are able to see a change in how they look and their perception of what's going on in their treatment because they've been able to experience something amazing. It shows in their medical care and we can see them flourish."
Make-A-Wish isn't just for terminally ill children, which is a common misconception.
"When they hear Make A Wish, they think of a terminally ill child. I know I did," said Schulte. "So whenever I was approached by Make-A-Wish, I was like, no, my daughter doesn't apply. And they told me it's not terminally, it's anyone with an illness or a sickness."
Because of the power of a wish, the organization says a wish waiting list is not an option and they are doing everything possible to keep granting wishes, but they can't do it alone.
"I just think that any fundraiser or any time you're just looking to make a donation, Make-A-Wish is what needs to be at the top of your list," said Schulte.
For more information about how you can get involved with Make-A-Wish or to donate to the organization, click here.