The Disney World dreams of a 4-year-old Ohio girl who’s recovering from leukemia are looking better this week after plans for the Make-A-Wish Foundation to pay for the trip were scrapped.
The girl, McKenna May, completed intensive treatment in June for the cancer she was diagnosed with more than two years ago. It was that treatment that prevented her from going to Disney when the Make-A-Wish trip was first discussed in January 2011, McKenna’s grandmother, Lori Helppie, said Thursday.
But McKenna is now on once-a-month aftercare visits that would allow time for her to make the trip to the Magic Kingdom, her mother, Whitney Hughes, told CNN.
However, McKenna’s father, William May of Toledo, Ohio, who was never married to Hughes, says Make-A-Wish’s money would be better spent on terminally ill children who will never get to experience Disney otherwise since his daughter is free of cancer.
He’s refusing to sign paperwork that would allow the foundation to pay for McKenna’s trip.
“There’s children out there that deserve a trip like this that will never get to experience it,” May, 28, told CNN Thursday. “My daughter can go when she’s older and can remember it. I’ll pay for it.”
Rather than pay upwards of $3,500 for McKenna and her family to go to Florida, May suggested the group just get the girl a $200 swing set for her backyard.
Paul Allvin, vice president for brand advancement with Make-A-Wish Foundation of America in Phoenix, told CNN a child need not be terminally ill to qualify for wish fulfillment. That was the case when the organization started, but the policy changed more than 20 years ago, he said.
These days, all a child needs to qualify is a doctor's verification that the child has or had a condition that would be life-threatening if left untreated, Allvin said. As many as 80% of "Wish Kids" live into adulthood, he said.
"What we would never do is penalize a child for getting better," Allvin said.
Susan McConnell, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, told the Sentinel-Tribune of Bowling Green, Ohio, that McKenna is certainly entitled to the organization’s help.
Hughes agrees with McConnell, saying her daughter endured a lot during her treatment and deserves the Florida trip.
"She's really excited," Hughes told the Sentinel-Tribune, which first published accounts of McKenna’s story this week. "It's all she's talked about for the last three months."
After May refused to sign off on the trip last month, Hughes withdrew her request with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and tried to raise money privately, putting out collection jars around the area where they live and setting up an online donation site.
Hughes said Thursday it will take $3,500 for her, McKenna, McKenna’s younger sister and her grandmother and grandfather to spend a couple of days at Disney and a couple of days at Daytona Beach “to build sandcastles.”
McKenna’s mother and grandmother have also set up a site to accept donations online, http://www.gofundme.com/Make-McKennas-wish-happe. That site showed a flurry of donations Thursday as McKenna’s story spread across national media and donations passed the $9,700 mark early Thursday evening.
“I will get her there someday, but I’m not sure when I’ll get her there,” Hughes said Thursday morning. With the online response, it appears McKenna’s dream may come true sooner rather than later.
Nevertheless, "We are ready to grant this wish if the parents can work it out," Allvin said.