Make-A-Wish Idaho, Home Depot grant a playful wish to 5-year-old with cancer
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AMERICAN FALLS — With a mask not quite hiding a smile, 5-year-old Eileen pranced around her backyard playing with a new Barbie doll. All the while, she shared the beautiful sunshine with 11 orange-clad strangers, building a fancy Home Depot playset.
When Eileen was asked by Make-A-Wish Idaho what her wish was, she didn’t fully understand.
Eileen, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2019, and was completely unfamiliar with the 501(c)(3) organization. But after an explanation by her parents and representatives of Make-A-Wish Idaho, Eileen asked for a swing set, so she and her four-year-old sister could play together in their backyard.
The selfless wish for a toy that would provide both Eileen and her sister joy is something Make-A-Wish Idaho Regional Director Julie Thomas called “wonderful.”
“These children are thrown into adult situations, nobody asks for it,” she told EastIdahoNews.com. “These children are resilient, they’re way stronger than you and I.”
Yeral Dia, Eileen’s mother, recalled discovering her daughter’s condition in June 2019.
“We were just going in for her check-up,” she said. “It was summer time and I saw a paleness in her, I was like, ‘she just doesn’t look right, maybe she’s dehydrated or something.’ We never suspected anything else.”
After lab tests, the Dia family learned Eileen had cancer. An early discovery, though, allowed doctors to get a quick jump on treatment, and the little girl has been in remission since July 2019.
“It’s been really hard,” Dia said. “We just never imagined she would be going through anything like this. She’s been really brave.”
The Dia family is hopeful that by the end of August this year, Eileen will be able to cease treatment entirely.
When that happens, the little girl will be able to enjoy a massive playset situated in her backyard, along with an accompanying sandbox.
The playset, complete with two slides, monkey bars and three swings was supplied, free of charge, by Home Depot, and constructed by the company’s associate volunteer force — Team Depot.
Team Depot is made up entirely of Home Depot employees willing to volunteer their time off and expertise, explained Chubbuck Home Depot spokeswoman Lynn Frahm. And this group had no shortage of volunteers. In fact, Frahm said she was forced to turn several volunteers down.
“We usually do several of these projects a year, whether it’s for veterans or just something in community,” she told EastIdahoNews.com. “In 2020, with COVID, it put restrictions on everything, we couldn’t do any of those community projects. So when we were given the green light this year, we were so excited.”
Team Depot arrived at the Dia home early Saturday morning for the all-day project, and wouldn’t be leaving until the job was complete, Frahm said.
Thomas lauded the commitment of both Home Depot and Team Depot, whom she said have been “110%” invested in the endeavor.
“It’s incredible,” she said. “They have been phenomenal, Lynn and I have been in constant contact. They have made it seamless for us, they’ve done all the work.”
Team Depot has been itching to get back to serving, according to Frahm.
“I’ve got an amazing team out here, today,” Frahm said. “I’m really proud of everybody. We’re just super-excited to be here giving back. Giving back is one of the core values with Home Depot, and this is a perfect opportunity for us to give back to the community, it means a lot to us.”
As for the selection process that led Make-A-Wish Idaho and Team Depot to the American Falls backyard, Thomas explained that there are multiple ways for a wisher to be referred. Referrals can either come from the family or the hospital or doctor’s office.
In order to be considered by Make-A-Wish, a child must have a progressive, degenerative or malignant illness.
After a wisher is selected, their information is forwarded to a physician, who either approves or denies their selection.
Then comes a virtual interview, where one of Make-A-Wish Idaho’s seven staff members chats directly with the wisher and their family, and the wish is made.
Thomas said that she had been in regular contact with Eileen and her family throughout the process.
Wishes granted must fall into one of four criteria; go, be, have or meet. Eileen chose to *have* and swing set.
*Go* is difficult right now, Thomas explained. COVID restrictions, especially having to do with travel, have sent a lot of kids back to the drawing board.
“With COVID, a lot of kids have had to reimagine their wish, and rethink it, because we don’t know when travel is going to open,” Thomas explained. “And even when it does open, we’re going to wait until it is extremely safe for our kids.”
Still, Make-A-Wish Idaho has 80 wishes slated for 2021.
As difficult as the past two years have been for the Dia family, they have been nothing but grateful, for all the support they have gotten from all directions. Family and friends have been there, to help during long trips to receive treatment, or providing care for Eileen’s younger sister, Dia said continuing to fight back tears.
“Through all this experience, we’re just grateful for everybody’s support. That’s what really matters to us right now.”