Sick kid wishes to volunteer with orphans
Ten-year-old Isabella Tonn is recovering from a rare form of cancer and was given a wish from the Make-A-Wish foundation. The Edmonton girl's wish is to volunteer at an orphanage. Isabella and her family are packing up donations of clothes and toys and heading to an orphanage in Mexico early next month. The girl says she just wants to help people and make them feel loved. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
EDMONTON - When 10-year-old Isabella Tonn of Edmonton started recovering from a rare form of cancer, she got to make a wish.
"If you could have anything you want in the whole wide world, what would it be?" her father, Ryan, asked her earlier this year.
The beautiful blond girl with big blue eyes briefly considered asking to meet Justin Bieber. But he was old news. She thought about wishing for a trip, but she'd already been to Walt Disney World with her family. Then she thought about doing something for others.
"Oh, I'd love to go to an orphanage and hold babies," she decided. Her family tried to tempt her with other ideas, but she couldn't be swayed.
The international Make-A-Wish foundation has granted about 250,000 wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.
In Canada, the charity grants about one wish a day. But spokeswoman Amber Benders says it's unusual for sick kids to dream of doing volunteer work.
In the United States, there have been a few reports of selfless Make-A-Wish dreams. One teenage boy recently asked for lights and bleachers for his high school football stadium. Another teen wanted a donation sent to another charity, Doctors Without Borders.
"The whole point of a wish is for the child to pick what would give them ultimate happiness, hope, strength and joy," Benders says. "For Isabella, that's volunteering at an orphanage and we think that's amazing."
So the foundation is helping Isabella, her parents, and younger sister collect donations of clothes and toys before sending them off for a week to work at an orphanage in Baja California, Mexico. They arrive in Vicente Guerrero next month.
Her grandparents and an uncle were so inspired by her dream they have decided pay their own way so they can volunteer at the orphanage, too.
Ryan Tonn says his eldest girl has always been a generous and thoughtful child, although the family has not done much volunteer or charity work before. He and his wife, Sheila, had previously talked with their two girls about adopting an orphan from a foreign country.
But they put the idea on hold when Isabella got sick.
Tonn says he wrapped his arms around Isabella one morning in February 2011 and felt a golf ball-sized lump near her left shoulder blade.
After six months of tests, she was diagnosed with NLP Hodgkin lymphoma, a blood cancer affecting the lymph nodes.
The girl had just watched a grandparent die of colorectal cancer and she knew having cancer meant she might also die, says Tonn.
But doctors have told the family the cancer was caught early and her prognosis is excellent. Isabella had surgery and hasn't yet needed further treatment.
"She's definitely not out of the woods but we really feel like we've dodged a bullet," Tonn says.
He says the Make-A-Wish foundation first contacted the family when she was diagnosed but they were reluctant to accept. "There's so many kids that have it so much worse."
They revisited the idea again this year, about the same time they also restarted the adoption process.
Tonn says Isabella may have gotten her orphanage idea from all the adoption talk. She decided her wish would be to visit an orphanage about the same time the family learned they would be getting two-year-old twins from an orphanage in Haiti.
Isabella smiles while talking about her new sister Faith and brother Evan. She doesn't know when they'll be coming to Canada, but she has seen photos of the twins and their orphanage.
"I thought maybe it would be cool to go see what an orphanage is like," Isabella says, adding she hopes the volunteer work in Mexico with involve a lot of play time with little ones.
"I just want to help people and make them feel loved."