Three-year-old Aakron Raba of Hettinger, N.D. was never able to play like other children when it came to swinging and enjoying the fresh outdoors. He always wished he could have that opportunity to be outside with his friends and family and be able to swing the day away. On Monday, May 25, his wish came true.
Raba and his parent’s Ashley Finck and Zaide Raba, have been fighting the struggles of Raba’s health issues since the early months of Raba’s birth.
“We found out when Aakron was three-months-old that he had epilepsy,” Finck said. “After getting meds to treat it, he wasn’t getting any better. At six-months-old we went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (Minn.) and found out he has the rare copper deficiency called Menkes Disease.”
Three years later, it was Finck who then reached out to Make-A-Wish, the non-profit organization that helps create life-changing experiences for children with critical illnesses. The intentions of the wish were for Finck, her husband, Zaide, and their child, Aakron, to go on a family vacation they’ve never gone on before. But the idea for the dream-come-true trip, turned into a dream-come-true outdoor experience for Raba to use whenever he wanted.
“We have a family member who we were going to plan to go to DisneyLand for this upcoming Christmas, we were planning on going on a trip and we thought ‘let’s see if Make A Wish can help, because then we’d have medical stuff there for if he ever needed it, and we’d have help with the travel purposes’” Finck said. “And we started talking to them, and then they told us that they do more than trips.
“We got to talking and I know he really enjoys being outside and where we live there isn’t really a handicap swing or stuff like that,” Finck added. “And when they said that they could do a handicap swing it really … It was a really good choice for him, because he just loves being outside and swinging.”
Amanda Godfread, the regional director for Make-A-Wish North Dakota, worked with Finck to make Raba’s wish of having a functional handicap swing become a reality.
“They didn’t have anything for Aakron to utilize outside,” Godfread said. “Knowing that he is in a wheelchair and he does love motion and family, being able to interact with them. But to have a swing set to accommodate a wheelchair, that makes motion hard and there’s only limited ways that you can interact with your family.”
After some thorough planning and having the proper blueprints drawn up by construction experts, both the family and Make-A-Wish were ready to put the construction plans in motion.
“What they did was put a concrete slab out in the backyard and then they erected the swing set to where it was a little bit more complex than what a traditional swing set would be,” Godfread said. “There’s a little bit more construction and that kind of thing when building these types of swing sets. When it was finished, there was officially a swing that would accommodate his wheelchair specifically, along with swings for people who are not in a wheelchair like his parents, neighbors, friends, they can all be on there with him and be interactive while he’s enjoying himself.”
After only four hours of construction, Raba was able to enjoy his wish by swinging in his very own wheelchair swing with his family, while in the comforts of his own backyard.
“Just seeing him light up because he can actually go outside now and he’s not just sitting around,” Finck said. “He can actually do stuff and look around, just the way you see his face light up is beautiful.”
The foundation also decided to build a wheelchair ramp for Raba to make transportation much easier for Raba and his parents.
“That was the biggest thing that we needed,” Finck said. “We thought that it was the easy thing getting the wheelchair in and out without the wheelchair ramp. But when it was made, and he can actually stay in the wheelchair; instead of us carrying his wheelchair and setting him in it; and then having to get him out of the wheelchair, just to get him back in the house; or to the swingset, that’s been a really big relief for us.”
Since May 25, Raba has been living his dream, being able to be outside, the place he loves to be, swing while looking at the trees and the beauty of nature, his favorite activity, and do so with his friends and family. Raba’s wish truly has been a dream come true, and it didn’t take place at Disneyland, but in the small town of Hettinger.
“He’s outside every night,” Finck said. “If he doesn’t get to go outside, because it’s too cold, or it’s raining, he gets fussy. I try to tell him, ‘we can’t go outside, it’s raining or it’s too cold outside,’ I can just tell that he’s upset. He doesn’t verbally say it but I could just tell that he’s upset because where he wants to be is outside.”
For Godfread and the Make-A-Wish organization, it is always a beautiful feeling being able to fulfill a child’s wish. However, in such unpredictable times, wishes are more special, even to the staff members whose jobs are to make wishes a reality.
“Wish granting is always a wonderful feeling, as a volunteer and as an employee of Make-A-Wish,” Godfread said. “But I think especially right now with COVID-19, when so many wishes are on hold because we can’t do a lot of things. Events are being cancelled, travel is an uncertain thing right now and frankly a lot of wish kids are isolated right now because of some concerns in terms of specifically their health. With that being said, I think, especially now at this time, to be able to grant such a wish, it’s so meaningful to be able to provide that joy, hope and happiness with that park for Aakron. Honestly, I think it just gives all of us hope that we can continue doing that for other kids too.”
In reality, there was more than one wish fulfilled with the building of the swing set. Raba may have been able to get his wish, but for his parents, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing their child enjoy life.
“It’s relaxing knowing that he’s relaxed,” Finck said. “It’s just a refresher for me as a parent that he’s in a happy place and we can both relax and enjoy it together.”
As for advice for parents that may be in the same situation, or may be thinking about trying to create a wish for their child, Finck stated, “Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, there’s a lot of opportunities out there for kids to enjoy life, no matter what it is.”
For information on how to help contribute to Make-A-Wish or for more information as to how to potentially get a wish for a child, visit wish.org, or call Amanda Godfread at 701-280-9474.