Eight-year-old cancer survivor Muhammad Nor Fareez Haikal Mohd Nor Hisyam thinks the world of firefighters. He loves everything about firefighters, from their uniform to their fire trucks and most of all, their courage in saving others from danger.

“Firefighters are superheroes. They save people from burning buildings and put out fires. They are brave and protect us from harm,” says the Year Two student from SK Tanjong Tokong in Penang.

Imagine the young boy’s delight when firemen from the Perak Road Fire and Rescue Department in Penang paid him a surprise visit at home.

“First, I heard loud sirens. Next thing I knew, a fire truck was in front of my house. I couldn’t believe my luck when a group of firemen came over to say ‘hello’. I thought it was a dream,” says Haikal, recounting his idols’ visit in August.

Children with critical illness need extra love and support from friends and family members.

Haikal’s dream to meet firefighters was made possible by Make-A-Wish Malaysia, the foundation that aims to grant wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich their human experience with hope, strength and joy.

Haikal still remembers how the firefighters picked him up and drove him to the fire station.There, he underwent an emergency drill, rode on the turntable ladder fire truck and learnt how to put out a fire. The icing on the cake was a surprise birthday celebration, followed by lunch.

“It was so exciting and memorable. I wish to be a firefighter and help others,” he says.

In Oct last year, Haikal was diagnosed with primitive neuroectodermal tumour, a type of brain cancer. Two months later, he underwent surgery to remove the tumour, which was the size of a golf ball.

So far, Haikal has completed 14 chemotherapy treatments. His mother Azimah Mohamad Zain, 35, says her eldest child is slowly regaining his motor function strength. She hopes his motor skills and physical strength will improve to enable him to lead a normal life.

“Haikal can’t participate in sports or cycling as he feels tired easily. He also feels dizzy when he walks too much. But the visit by the firefighters helped boost his spirit. They are his source of inspiration for a speedy recovery,” says Azimah.

The firefighters’ visit cheered up Haikal and it has taught him that dreams do come true even though sometimes the obstacles he faces are challenging.

Dreams are possible

Make-A-Wish Malaysia is affiliated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a US-based non-profit organisation.

Since its inception here in 2010, Make A Wish Malaysia has granted 485 wishes. Called Wish Day, it allows the child and their family to put aside their challenges for a day by immersing themselves in the activities organised for them.

Make-A-Wish’s surprises for patients’ families also give them hope, strength and joy. They feel empowered to take on the fight against the medical challenges they face.

“These children usually endure long periods of treatment (sometimes over a year) and during this time, they could be in despair and lonely. Very often they give up hope, refuse or abandon treatment, thus reducing their chance of survival. A wish helps to transform negative feelings to positive ones, providing the child an experience to instil hope, strength and joy, when everything around them seems hopeless,” says Make-A-Wish Malaysia chief executive officer Irene Tan.

Make-A-Wish Malaysia works with five public hospitals in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, Kuantan and Penang. Doctors from these hospitals refer their most needy patients to Tan and her team.

“We have our internal approval and verification process before accepting the referral for a Wish Day. Children need to be diagnosed with a critical illness and are between the ages of three and 18 years old. Once approved, trained volunteers will meet the patient and family to capture the child’s heartfelt wish. Each wish requires the approval of medical doctors and our board to ensure medical suitability and safety,” says Tan, adding it costs about RM6,500 to organise each Wish Day.

Chiang Wai Khang, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystroph, couldn’t believe his eyes when he met his idol, Rynn Lim.

Last year, they granted six-year-old Agnes How’s wish to be Cinderella for a day. Agnes, who lives in Kuantan, has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and travelled to Ritz Carlton in KL where she was treated like a princess with full pomp. She had a bevy of ladies-in-waiting, a team of butlers, high tea, and even Prince Charming – all at her service.

The foundation also enabled Ipoh-based Chiang Wai Khang, 15, who is diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), to meet homegrown singer/songwriter Rynn Lim. His older brother Chiang Wai Cheng, 18, who also has DMD, had his wish granted to meet Malaysian men’s doubles shuttlers Tan Wee Kiong and Goh V Shem.

On average, Make A Wish Malaysia grants between four and five wishes for unwell children each month. Tan says it takes a fair bit of planning to realise these children’s dreams.

“Each wish process can take months, depending on the child’s ongoing treatment, his/her wish and family members’ availability. We have a small team who manages the paperwork, communications with doctors, family, logistics and planning. Each wish requires at least four volunteers and almost all our volunteers have full time jobs. For this, we are extremely grateful.”

On Dec 7, Make A Wish Malaysia is organising its annual fundraising Wish Ball. Highlights include performances by KL Dance Works’ Special Swan Lake and an orchestra show by Eugene Pook Orchestra Academy. There will also be a live and silent auction.

“The highlight is always our auction where guests have a chance to bid on a range of bespoke and customised experiences. All proceeds go to granting wishes. Items available for auction include a holiday package to Abu Dhabi, a signed jersey by Argentinian World Cup star Diego Maradonna and limited edition jewellery by Amee Philips.”

Make A Wish Malaysia’s Wish Ball 2018 is on Dec 7 (6.30pm) at Mandarin Oriental, KL. Tables are priced at RM4,000, RM5,000 and RM8,000. For more details, contact 03-22763344 or 012-666-4146, or email info@makeawish.org.my