The Muñoz family: Mother Norma, standing, with Isabela, Jasmine, father Ignacio and Camila.
josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice
Jasmine Muñoz could have met Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, gone to a beach or taken a cruise, but the little 12-year-old leukemia survivor would rather see The Vatican and meet Pope Francis.
Jasmine underwent chemotherapy, but it did not work, nor did an experimental procedure. More chemotherapy reduced her body's defenses and she developed pneumonia and suffered a heart attack. She spent two months in intensive care connected to a ventilator.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to granting the wishes of children with serious diseases, Jasmine's dream will come true. She and her family will travel to Rome from April 11-19.
Jasmine was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2011. What started as a stomachache ended with the news she had cancer of the blood.
Her family, who lived in Oakley, was living in Mexico for a year where their three daughters, Jasmine, Isabela, 6, and Camila, 4, could learn Spanish. It was while living there they found out about Jasmine's illness.
They came back to California immediately, going directly from the airport to Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, where treatment began.
"The doctors told us that all we could do was pray," recalled Norma Muñoz, Jasmine's mother.
"We were inconsolable. In these difficult times I felt close to God and came an indescribable peace. I stopped mourning and I felt very comfortable knowing that everything would be fine," recalled Jasmine's father, Ignacio, adding he had not been close to the Church.
Jasmine developed a strong infection, and was transferred to University of California San Francisco Medical Center; she underwent more surgeries.
"Doctors, nurses and everyone at home was surprised by Jasmine's strength," her mother said.
Doctors suggested the family try a bone marrow transplant. "It was a tough decision, very risky, very scary because we did not know if Jasmine was going to survive. But it was a sign from God that my second daughter, Isabela, was a 100 percent compatible donor," said Norma Muñoz.
Another challenge, recalled the mother, was having two of her daughters hospitalized, "one fighting for her life and another saving the life of her sister."
The bone marrow transplantation went well. Jasmine recovered from the procedure in four weeks. At her last exam, Jasmine was doing well.
"We're very close," said Norma Muñoz, who claims to have seen many miracles in the recovery of her daughter, who was on the brink of death on several occasions.
During the illness, the family moved to Hayward to be near in-laws, and started attending St. Joachim Parish.
"It changed our lives. We have come very close to God. Jasmine is reading the life of St. Teresa," Norma Muñoz said.
Norma became a reader at St. Joachim and Jasmine is part of the choir, though she sometimes cannot participate because her legs hurt — she developed a type of osteoporosis from spending so much time in bed.
After Jasmine entered the hospital, a social worker told the family about the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Jasmine said she wanted to see Rome and The Vatican. Everyone was surprised by the choice.
"I was given a book about Italy and fell in love with that country," she said.
"I want to know the pope because at this moment, he is the representative of Jesus on earth. I will ask him about his life, how he lives," she said.
"I chose Rome because I like Europe — the language, the food, the churches and the history," Jasmine said.
And although it was not possible to obtain a private audience with the pope, because that would be a second wish, Jasmine will be present at a public audience.
"We are very grateful to everyone, especially to the parish community at St. Joachim who've been outstanding to us and to Father Mario Olea, SVD, who has Jasmine's name in the parish bulletin for all to pray for her." (Father Olea worked with a Catholic television station in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, when Pope Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, was cardinal-archbishop there.)
"A thousand thanks to all," Norma Muñoz said.
Ever wonder on how Make-A-Wish works?
The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children, between the ages of 2½ and 18, who have life-threatening medical conditions.
The process starts with a wish referral. Referrals come from parents, doctors, social workers and others who know about a child living with medical problems, said Jen Wilson, marketing director at the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area chapter. Last year the chapter received 413 referrals and out of that 262 wishes were granted.
At Make-A-Wish, every request or wish from a child is special. "We consider every wish unique and we try to tailor the experience to each child," Wilson said. Recently a little boy in San Francisco who wanted to be Batman garnered international attention when his wish was granted. The young caped crusader could be followed on Twitter as he was driven through the city in his bat mobile on the heels of the "bad guys." Local law enforcement officers were among the many who helped make his dream come true.
The most common wish is a trip to Disneyland, Disney World or a Disney cruise. Most wishes fall into one of five categories: "be" the wish to be a pilot, ballerina, chef; "give" the wish to help others such as the child who requested a piano for his school and another wanted to give away toys and clothes to homeless families; "go" request to go to Hawaii and other places; "have" a request for a puppy or birthday party; and "meet" wish to meet their favorite baseball player, the U.S. president or Jasmine Muñoz's wish to meet the pope.
The last child to wish for a meeting with the pope was in 2010. And the child did meet the pope.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation was created in 1980 in memory of a 7-year-old boy named Chris who had leukemia. His family and friends helped to make his dream of being a police officer for a day come true. Since then the Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted more than 234,000 wishes.
Today the foundation has 62 chapters in the U.S. and its territories. The Greater Bay Area chapter began in 1984. That year the chapter granted a total of 27 wishes. Today it is one of the largest chapters in the country and has granted more than 6,000 wishes.
The Greater Bay Area chapter serves 17 counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Marin, Monterey, San Benito, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Siskiyou, Solano and Sonoma.
Make-A-Wish picks up all the costs of someone's wish. If that wish involved travel costs like transportation and accommodations it is with the help of many donors. In addition to financial contributions from individuals, corporations, clubs and other groups, in-kind contributions have a big role. In-kind contributions are donations of goods or services instead of cash.
For example, when a child's wish is to go to Disneyland, the Walt Disney Co. will donate the tickets while a local hotel provides rooms for the child and the child's family.
High on the foundation's own wish list is volunteers to help families with such things as making arrangements to pack or get to the airport. Spanish-speaking volunteers are especially needed, Wilson said. Donations of frequent flier miles help get the wish kid and family to that wished-for site. Make-A-Wish is also looking for people to refer a child.
For more information, visit the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area chapter website at sf.wish.org.
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