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The Make-A-Wish wait continues for kids wishing for a trip to Disney World

Cayden Terry waited more than three years before being able to go on his 'wish' trip to Disney World. The 11-year-old is sitting in the Make-a-Wish Eastern NC offices in Raleigh, NC.
Leoneda Inge
Cayden Terry waited more than three years before being able to go on his 'wish' trip to Disney World. The 11-year-old is sitting in the Make-a-Wish Eastern NC offices in Raleigh, NC.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is working hard to chip away at a backlog of 'wishes' for critically-ill children slowed down by the pandemic.

For more than 40 years, one of the most popular “wishes” granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America is a trip to Disney World in Florida.

But those magical trips were put on hold during the pandemic. Now, there is a backlog of children waiting for their wishes to come true.

Chris Winter is the President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Eastern North Carolina. He said their waiting list has over 400 children on it.

“More than half of our wishes are Disney wishes, and specifically travel wishes,” said Winter. “And that, as you can imagine was one kind of wish that was most impacted by the pandemic.”

“We were unable to travel. We were unable to get on planes. We were unable to have our kids going into Disney.”

The Make-A-Wish national office said there has been a push to pivot wishes to something local and attainable during the pandemic, like shopping sprees. Puppies have also been popular.

But 11-year-old Cayden Terry, of Morrisville, was not giving up his Disney dream that easy. He has had multiple surgeries and suffers from a congenital heart defect. After years of waiting, Cayden and his family finally got their trip to Disney World. I recently got the chance to meet Cayden and his mother Kristen Terry for a casual but revealing conversation about the wait for his wish.

NOTE: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Kristen: We were actually living back in Texas and we got our wish with the south Texas Make-A-Wish group. And at that time we had just found out I was pregnant with Rylan. So they asked us when we wanted to do our Disney trip and I said, 'let’s wait until after the baby comes when I’ll be able to enjoy it.' After he was born, my husband got a job here in North Carolina, so we moved. And then we had to move (Make-A-Wish) chapters. And then the pandemic hit.

Inge: So give me a little timeline of that. I don’t know, when was Ry Ry born? When did you think your wish would be granted? And how long did it take for it finally to be granted?

Cayden: So my little brother was born in 2019. October 15. What happened was, I was thinking I would probably have three months and then we could go on the trip. Turned out to be around three years!

Kristen: We actually moved six weeks later to North Carolina. We established contact with the Make-A-Wish Foundation here. There wasn’t really much talk about when we would do the trip. We just knew we wanted to do the Disney trip. I was recovering and everything. But when the pandemic hit, it changed everything.

Cayden: And ruined it for me. Though it’s been so many times, Mom was like, ‘Cayden we might be doing the Wish trip soon!’ Nope. And then again, and again. So when Mom told me that we were gonna do it, I was not getting my hopes up because I know it has happened like five times when she said it was gonna happen. And nope. So, I didn’t get my hopes up until it actually came.

Inge: This is sort of a hard question I’ve had to ask, I’ve spoken to other Wish kids. There’s a reason for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and waiting three years, sometimes for health reasons, I can’t believe that. Were you worried about that?

Kristen: Yeah, we were worried about it. There were a lot of times when we would get an email asking, ‘hey, do you guys still want to do this trip or do you want to change your wish?’ We had thought about it.”

Cayden: I did not allow that. I wanted to go to Disney World. That has been one of my dreams for a long time.

Kristen: But we thought there was an option of getting a camper. That was one. But we don’t have a car or a way to store it because we live in an apartment. So that was out. We thought about maybe doing a dog, or a puppy. But nothing compared to what you get with the Wish trip to Disney World. So we just kept holding on and we’re really glad we did. It was definitely worth the wait.

Cayden: And plus, when they wanted to ask us do we want to change it, we already have Finnick. So the puppy thing was out.

Kristen: We ended up getting our own dog, our own puppy.

Cayden: If we didn’t have Finnick, I would probably resolve it to a puppy. But I really do think that I made the right choice.”

Inge: Tell me exactly, when did you go on your trip? And of course the big question, how was it?

Kristen: It was the first week in March when we were there.

Cayden: It was great. I loved getting my own villa. I would say, ‘Mom, sorry, we got evicted!’ Mom was like, even if you paid the rent you could not stay there. That was like a practical joke. But it was really nice. We went to the pool, watched a move, we went to do some rides there. I went horseback riding, Rylan and I got a bandana. It was really good and a memory I will carry on for a long time.

Kristen: It was nice because everything there is free and it’s all volunteers that just love to serve. And there’s a comradery that you have there with all the other ‘Wish’ families. You know that all of us have been through something to get there. And the volunteers are so kind and willing to serve and wanting to make sure you have the best trip ever.

Inge: When I speak to other people, the whole purpose of that week at Disney is to really make you forget about what may be tough at home. Did it accomplish that for you and your family?

Kristen: What did you keep saying?

Cayden: That I loved it!

Kristen: He kept saying that all of his surgeries have finally payed off. He’s had 10 surgeries, maybe more.

Cayden: My dad said, ‘now Cayden I don’t think you’re going to think that way after another surgery.’ You are gonna be like, they got to send me back!

Kristen: It definitely made up for all the hardships we’ve been through as a family. It was a dream come true for all of us.

Leoneda Inge is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Leoneda has been a radio journalist for more than 30 years, spending most of her career at WUNC as the Race and Southern Culture reporter. Leoneda’s work includes stories of race, slavery, memory and monuments. She has won "Gracie" awards, an Alfred I. duPont Award and several awards from the Radio, Television, Digital News Association (RTDNA). In 2017, Leoneda was named "Journalist of Distinction" by the National Association of Black Journalists.
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