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Fri, April 26

Local women helps grant wishes to sick children

Pat West has been making children's dreams come true for 15 years.

A Kingman resident, West is a wish-granting volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Arizona.

Responsible for granting wishes to children under 18 who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, West recently granted 12-year-old Natalie Hoagland's wish to cruise the Bahamas next week.

"It is our goal to enrich their experiences with hope, strength and joy," West said of the children and families who benefit from the wish.

West interviewed Natalie - who has a reoccurring brain tumor - and recommended that Natalie's wish to have her mother, grandmother, two sisters, and a brother accompany her to the Bahamas come true.

"Her and her family will go on a four-day cruise," West said.

"She also wants to see the famous Atlantis Resort."

West said Natalie and her family will visit the "lost city of Atlantis" where an extensive marine habitat aquarium is located.

The family will fly from Las Vegas to Miami Monday.

The following morning they will board the "Majesty of the Seas" cruise ship that will make ports of call on the islands of Nassau and Coco Cay and at Key West.

Natalie's grandmother, Amaryliss Smith, cares for Natalie and her siblings while her daughter Dana Smith, a single mom, works the graveyard shift at the Gardens Rehab & Care Center, where she is a RN supervisor.

"Natalie is a bright and inquisitive child," Amaryliss Smith said.

"She is looking forward to the trip because she wants to see the inner workings of the ship.

"She has been able to stay on the honor roll at school in spite of the tumor and all the surgeries."

The family first found out Natalie had a brain tumor when she was four.

"She had surgery to remove it, but it destroyed her thyroid and pituitary gland," Amaryliss Smith said.

"Then the tumor grew back when she was eight."

Again Natalie had surgery, but the tumor grew back again when she was 12.

Natalie had her last surgery March 2002, but massive scar tissue on the right side of her face is pressing on her nerves causing headaches and nausea.

"They are going to send her to a plastic surgeon to have the scar tissue removed," she said.

However, Natalie's doctors have said they won't do any more surgeries on Natalie if, or when, the brain tumor comes back.

"If that occurs they will have to do radiation treatment," she said.

West said she is amazed at the strength of the children and families she has dealt with over the years.

"I am also amazed with the generosity and love this community has shown," West said.

"They have always been there to help with whatever I ask them for."

West said though the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northern Arizona pays for the bulk of the wish, there are some things, such as the bon voyage party for Natalie Friday, that are donated by local businesses.

"We donated a computer to one girl, and a local business donated a computer desk," she said.

"Every time we grant a wish, local stores pitch in for a cake and food."

From time to time West sees some of the children who have had their wish granted by Make-A-Wish.

"We have lost a few, but I am still in touch with some of them," she said.

"Several years ago an 11-year-old boy with leukemia had a wish to go to Disneyland," she said.

"Now he is in his 20s and married."

West, who recently retired from the Kingman school district, where she was a substitute teacher coordinator, said she almost never gets sad at the plight of the children, because "they are always so upbeat."


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