BigFatPanda.com Team (in Memory of Matthew DeSantis)
Matthew was only 12 years old when he passed away of Leukemia. He was my cousin.
I was 19 at the time. 7 years doesn't sound like a lot of years, but at that age, it was enormous. He looked up to me soooo much I can't write this without tears streaming down my face. Ya see, as you might know, I am a Disney maniac fan and Matthew picked this up from me, always wanting to know about the rides and shows. He thought the Electrical Parade Music was great. His family had little means and he had never been to DisneyWorld or even on a vacation at all for that matter. I thought I would be able to take him one day.
I just didn't know under what gloomy circumstances.
Procedure after procedure, things were looking bad. He underwent a Bone Marrow transplant in the state of Washington. I remember him calling me while he was on his way back home to New York.
"Uncle John, they say I am going to die!". Yes, he called me Uncle even though I was his cousin. I was not prepared or briefed on how to respond to this 12 year old that flat out told me, in all calmness, that he was going to pass soon. I simply said something to the effect of "No you're not" and continued to plan his return visit home.
The Make A Wish Foundation and Give Kids The World contacted the family, and I was thrilled to find out that Matthews wish was to see Walt DisneyWorld. But get this - I was part of his wish. It was not just to visit DisneyWorld but I was listed as needing to come along. I saw the paper that read "I want to visit DisneyWorld with my family but we must have Uncle John included". It took me 10 minutes to type that line - this is hard - even 20 years later - WOW!!!
Without detailing everything I remember, the GKTW Village was amazing and accommodating to the family. Matthew was weak and in a wheelchair at this time. He had a mediport installed close to his heart for easy access to giving him medicines. I remember his mother Camille whom I love dearly, happy that the shower had some mediport cleaner and all. The Village just screamed "Relax, let the sickness be put on hold for this week ".
The highlight for me was the Haunted Mansion. He wanted to go in the worst way even though I felt the subject matter might be macabre at this time. He separated it and wasn't thinking bad in the midst of Disney. BUT, he wanted to see the whole thing. He didn't want to skip the "stretching room" as all wheelchair guests did at that time. I lifted him out of the wheelchair and we laughed like crazy. He was in my arms like a big baby being held the whole time. It didn't matter how much my arms hurt - he was doing it the regular way and that's all that mattered.
It was an amazing time - and the memories would never have been possible without the help of the GKTW Give Kids The World organization. And they never made you feel anything but Welcome.
Reality quickly set in upon returning home - Approximately 3 days after our Walt DisneyWorld extravaganza, Matthew simply let go and passed away. I still don't quite understand what happened or why and will always question how the God I believe in allows such things but I realize it's not for me to know everything and I go on.
With that, I ask you to PLEASE donate SOMETHING (any amount) in Matthews memory to give another child an AMAZING experience with his or her family. The details of the event are also in the link. THANK YOU SO MUCH! BIG HUGS!
GKTW is a 70-acre resort that fulfills fantasy vacations for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Since its founding in 1986, Give Kids The World has welcomed over 122,000 families from all 50 states and over 70 countries. Each year over 7,000 children from all 50 states and over 70 countries experience the Village. Give Kids The World has made a promise to never turn a child away.
I am participating in the Attractions Blogger Bowl, benefitting Give Kids The World Village. Your donation will help provide special families with a cost-free magical vacation to Give Kids The World, where the families can create memories at Central Florida's beloved attractions. With your support, we can make a difference in the lives of children and their families.
Donating through this site is simple, fast, and totally secure. Your contribution to my personal fundraiser for Give Kids The World will make a difference in the lives of these special children.
Many thanks for your support -- and don't forget to share this opportunity with anyone who you think might want to donate to the Village as well!