IMPERIAL â€” Saturday was a night not-soon-forgotten for young Christopher Wheeler and his family, who was surprised to encounter a full â€œStar Warsâ€-themed reception at the Imperial County Fire Department, where it was announced that he and his family would be going to Disney World and Universal Studios at no expense. The event was organized by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, along with various donors in the Valley.
â€œThe heart of his wish was that he wanted to be a Jedi,â€ said Lydda Ochoa of Imperial, a Make-A-Wish volunteer who helped coordinate the evening.
Wheeler was diagnosed with common variable immune deficiency (CVID), a condition that left him susceptible to seizures and memory loss. Seizure episodes have often involved assistance from the Imperial Fire Department, and the resulting bond between the boy and the firefighters who assisted him suggested that it would be fitting to celebrate Christopherâ€™s special night among his friends at the fire department.
â€œHis heroes are these fire fighters,” said Ochoa. “Theyâ€™re the ones who respond when he has his problems at home or at school.â€
â€œWeâ€™re sending him to Disney World to meet his heroes from Star Wars, but we wanted him to have a special day with his everyday heroes here,â€ she said.
It was earlier this year that Christopherâ€™s mother, Michelle Wheeler, was prompted by several friends to reach out to the San Diego Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has granted about 200 wishes to children diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions, 15 of whom have resided in Imperial County. After submitting Christopherâ€™s medical information, Mrs. Wheeler was promptly contacted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
â€œWithin three hours, I got the call that Chris had been accepted and he was going to have a wish granted,â€ recalled Wheeler. â€œIt was absolutely amazing.â€
Chris was asked to start writing down things he liked and putting them into his Make-A-Wish box over the next few months. After surveying his interests, it was clear the two things that most excited Christopher: all things Star Wars and flying on a plane (Chris had never flown before).
So the plan was decided, and on November 1, Chris and his family will be flown to Disney World in Florida to enjoy the theme park, including the Star Wars-themed area of the park, where he will also get the opportunity to meet â€œKylo Renâ€ actor, Adam Driver. When asked what he was looking forward to most in the coming months, Christopher didnâ€™t hesitate.
â€œThe next [Star Wars] movie coming out,â€ he said, as well as his first experience â€œto go on a plane.â€
Yet Saturday nightâ€™s celebration was more than just an announcement of the Star Wars dream-trip. Friends and family, donors and performers all arrived early to surprise Christopher with the good news.
Although Christopher was told by his mother that they would be stopping by the fire department to drop off cookies for his firefighter friends, the boy was soon greeted by the sound of a full marching band playing the Star Wars theme song as the flag team twirled light sabers in sync with the music. A flashing fire truck pulled out of the fire station garage with the Make-A-Wish team and Christopherâ€™s friends and family sitting on top, waving to Chris.
The festivities continued as a â€œstorm trooperâ€ pineapple cake was presented to Christopher, designed and donated by Nitziaâ€™s Heavenly Cakes. The firefighters also gave him an up-close demonstration of several of the emergency vehicles, and even helped Christopher don the full attire of a fire fighter, face mask and all.
As the night came to a close, Chris cheerfully played as his mother continued to process the events.
â€œItâ€™s amazing and overwhelming,â€ said Wheeler as she looked at Chris surrounded by firefighters and the Make-A-Wish team. â€œAll of them are absolutely wonderful.â€[envira-gallery id=”85636″]