Make-A-Wish and HFD grant wish…with complications
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Everything was going according to plan last Thursday, as 13-year-old Ryan Schwyzer was in for the surprise of his life. Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire were granting Ryan his wish — to have an above-ground swimming pool installed in his backyard, with the assistance of Hemet Fire Department. But ultimately, things did not go exactly according to plan.
Ryan was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) when he was about 18 months old, after his parents noticed he was having digestive issues. For most of his life, Ryan has been in and out of the hospital undergoing numerous treatments, feeding through a gastronomy tube, and taking enzyme tablets and nebulizer therapy daily. But you would never know it by looking at him.
“When you see him, you couldn’t even tell,” said Ryan’s father, Patrick. “He can keep up with any other kid; he plays all day long. He doesn’t act any different.”
Patrick said that living with Ryan’s condition has been a “life-changer,” but it has also exposed him and his family to opportunities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“When a child has a life-threatening medical condition, they can be referred to Make-A-Wish,” explained Kara Bautch, senior marketing and communications manager of Make-A-Wish Orange County and the Inland Empire. “It can be a doctor, a family member, or the kid themselves.”
In this case, it was social worker Katie Porter at Los Angeles Kaiser Permanente’s CF Center, who connected the Schwyzers with the organization.
What is Cystic Fibrosis?
More than 30,000 people in the world live with CF, and about 1,000 cases are diagnosed each year. CF is a condition that thickens the cells in the body that make mucus, sweat and other digestive fluids, which causes the blockage of tubes and ducts throughout the body. The buildup of mucus in his lungs makes breathing difficult, and often leads to infections. Every time two CF carriers (both of Ryan’s parents) have a child, there’s a 1 in 4 chance that they will be born with CF. Ryan is the youngest of his three other siblings and is the only one diagnosed with CF.
Now an eighth-grader at Dartmouth Middle School, Ryan is not letting his condition slow him down. Ryan enjoys magic tricks, playing basketball, and riding scooters with his friends; much like any other kid his age. Also known as a “Rubik’s Cube prodigy,” he participated in Hemet High School’s Rubik’s Cube competition two years ago when he was in fifth grade.
The nearest Make-A-Wish club to Hemet resides at Heritage High School, where their 65 members have already raised $4,000, just shy of their $5,000 goal. Several of their members came out to Ryan’s reveal party with posters and a gift basket for him.
“We have our members, or anyone who wants to participate to go out and ask their friends, their family, or their neighbors to sponsor them with any kind of money they can raise,” explained Dayra Leal, club president.
Hemet Fire Department helps fill the pool
When Traci brought Ryan home from a friend’s house on Thursday, Ryan was surprised by a large Hemet Fire Department engine parked out front of his house. After making an excitable entrance surrounded by friends, family, teachers, and volunteers from Make-A-Wish, Ryan came around to the back yard, to see a brand new 10-foot by 18-foot Secard saltwater swimming pool.
Unfortunately, the reveal did not come without complications. Before Ryan arrived, the water filling the pool started to come out an orange-brown color, later determined to be the result of rusty pipes from a nearby city fire hydrant. Quick to redirect the focus while HFD reverse-pumped the water, Ryan was invited to dress in full firefighting gear, use a fire hose, and take photos inside the engine.
Mom disappointed by the efforts
As Make-A-Wish worked frantically to correct the situation, and Ryan and his friends occupied themselves on their scooters, his mother Traci was not shy to express her disappointment. “It’s not like how they make it look on TV,” she said.
“This chapter had terrible communication and from the beginning, never really got to know our son,” Traci later wrote in a review she left on the Make-A-Wish OC and IE Facebook page. She described Ryan’s meeting with a Make-A-Wish volunteer, who encouraged him to “wish big.” In doing so, Ryan wished for the ultimate backyard hangout, complete with a swimming pool, a ramp for his scooter, and a basketball hoop. However, the Schwyzer’s were later informed that his wish was actually “multiple wishes,” and that he needed to select one, despite – according to Traci – being encouraged to “think bigger.”
Ryan decided on the pool
“That was a red flag for me, but I thought, ‘It’s Make-A-Wish, they will surely go all out and blow his mind, whatever they do,’” said Traci. “But as we progressed through the process, it became evident that their plan was simply to order a pool, have it delivered, and depart from our lives.”
“I have read countless articles from around the nation of kids wishing for pools and backyard wishes that are so lovely and well thought-out,” said Traci. “Why did they go skimpy for my beautiful boy?”
Recently, a similar wish was granted to 5-year-old Brody Locklear of North Carolina, who received an above-ground swimming pool in his backyard, complete with an attached deck built and installed by a local home improvement repair service.
Daniel Sluss, 19, of North Virginia, also had a wooden deck donated by Lowe’s installed with his above-ground swimming pool wish last year.
Recent wishes granted by the OC and IE chapter included sending a young girl to Hawaii, and building a life-sized playhouse in another young girl’s backyard.
Make-A-Wish promises to make good
After speaking with CEO Stephanie McCormick of Make-A-Wish OC and IE, maintenance workers came back to the Schwyzer residence to drain, clean, and refill the pool. McCormick also promised an added filter replacement, three months of pool maintenance, and a future pool party on a date of Ryan’s choice.
“We want to apologize that you, Ryan, and your family are very upset with the wish experience and we are extremely sorry that it went the way that it did,” the Make-A-Wish chapter wrote in a statement. “It’s our goal to fulfill Ryan’s most heartfelt wish and get his pool up and running so he can enjoy it with his family and friends.”
“I appreciate her call,” said Traci. “What more can anyone do? I am grateful. We all are.”
Particularly grateful, Ryan says he’s going to be using his new pool every day. “I’m going to have a party,” he added. The concentrated saltwater solution in a saltwater swimming pool has proven to improve airway clearance in cystic fibrosis patients, much to the joy of Ryan’s parents.
“Thank you, like, a lot,” Ryan told Make-A-Wish. “This is crazy.”