WESTMINSTER -- Mathew Sawyer had been prepared to be squished.
The 15-year-old was with his family at the Holiday Inn in Burlington on Tuesday, Dec. 17, waiting for a ride to the airport so he could fly to Florida for his wish as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont. He was told to expect a tiny cab or shuttle van -- so imagine his surprise when a stretch limousine pulled up to take him to his flight.
Mathew flew to the Sunshine State with his father, Seth, mother, Candi, and 17-year-old brother, Adam, for a week of warm weather and theme parks, making his wish come true. The family spent seven care-free days exploring LEGOLAND, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom and got back to Vermont on Tuesday, Dec. 24, in time for Christmas at home.
A Legos enthusiast, Mathew had to restrain himself from spending the entire week at LEGOLAND.
"We went there the first day, but we didn't go there more than one day because there's so much to see in Florida," he told the Reformer while sitting next to his family's Christmas tree, in the comfort of his living room on Thursday, Dec. 26. The recliner he was resting in was donated, in addition to a quilt, to the family after Mathew represented The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont during a live auction following a golf tournament to benefit the organization.
With the trip of a lifetime to some of the finest theme parks in the country, Mathew officially became a wish recipient of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont. He suffers from Marfan's syndrome, a disorder of the body's connective tissue, and has gone through 15 surgeries since he was 7 years old. The hardship made him a perfect candidate for a wish, which was granted by Janice Wightman and her husband John Prasch, two Make-A-Wish volunteers.
Mathew, a student at The Compass School, told the Reformer he most enjoyed LEGOLAND and seeing the gorillas at Animal Kingdom.
The Sawyer family got royal treatment at the Give Kids The World Village, a non-profit resort in Kissimmee for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. Mathew said the resort is set up like the Candy Land board game and pizza and ice cream could be ordered around the clock. He said he probably most enjoyed the Jacuzzi, which he used to recuperate after a day of sightseeing, in the two bedroom villas the family stayed in. As a result of his condition, Mathew has two metal rods in his back and the Jacuzzi eased any discomfort he was feeling for walking around all day.
Mathew and Adam enjoyed Florida's theme parks the way any teenagers would -- but their parents said their favorite part was seeing how happy the trip had made them.
"Seeing Mathew and Adam with a smile on their faces the whole week (was the best part)," Candi said with a smile of her own. "Every day ... (Mathew) was like, ‘This is my favorite part.'"
Seth echoed his wife's sentiment.
"Both the boys, at different times, would turn to me and say, ‘I'm so happy,'" he recalled. "It's indescribable."
The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Vermont put up the Sawyers in the Holiday Inn the day before the flight and the day they landed back at Burlington International Airport so they wouldn't have to drive to Westminster while exhausted from their trip.
Wightman and Prasch had initially booked the trip a couple of years ago, but Mathew opted to wait until after he had recuperated from one of his surgeries.
"Why go if you're going hurt?" Mathew said.
He is scheduled to visit the Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia at the end of January for what should be his final operation.
Wightman, who has volunteered with Make-A-Wish for 20 years, said a wish is typically granted within two to six months after it is approved, but she admired how Mathew wanted to wait until he knew he would enjoy the trip. She said the Sawyer's trip was particularly special for her because it was the 50th wish she has granted. She noted that nearly 50 percent of wishes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation are to visit Walt Disney World.
Mathew was showered with gifts (including a remote-controlled helicopter toy) throughout this experience, but said his favorite had to be the goofy one his picked up at the at in Orlando -- a Santa Claus hat with Mickey Mouse ears.
"I felt like it was a necessity," he said.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.