The incredible story behind Shane O’Donnell’s Make-A-Wish and Marisa Tufaro’s foundation

Marisa Tufaro, who died before she was able to live out the complete magical experience Make-A-Wish New Jersey created for her, appears to have found from heaven a meaningful way to fulfill a desire to give back to the organization.

After all, divine intervention is, perhaps, the only explanation for an unbelievable Make-A-Wish New Jersey pairing of two friends, one who lost a 13-year-old daughter to cancer, and the other whose 3-year-old son continues to fight a winning battle against the dreaded disease.

Make-A-Wish New Jersey last year fulfilled 530 wishes for children with critical illness, including Marisa, making the “what-are-the-odds” tale of this particular completely random union of a wish donor and wish recipient extraordinary.

The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit established in loving memory of Marisa to help Middlesex County children in need, recently reached out to Make-A-Wish New Jersey to inquire about the possibility of partially sponsoring a child’s wish. The foundation had just one stipulation – the girl or boy had to be a Middlesex County resident.

Shortly after Marisa was diagnosed with cancer, her father, Greg, a sportswriter for the Home News Tribune, called his friend, Mike O’Donnell, a former baseball coach and current athletics director at Middlesex High School, to seek advice regarding questions to ask oncologists and what Marisa should expect from chemotherapy and radiation. Mike’s son, Shane, was diagnosed two years ago with high-risk neuroblastoma. In his role as a reporter, Greg has been privileged to chronicle the inspirational boy’s triumphs over the disease.

Last weekend, Greg received a letter from Make-A-Wish New Jersey, thanking The Marisa Tufaro Foundation for making a donation that “has helped grant Shane’s wish to go to the Walt Disney World Resort.

Greg thought nothing of the boy’s name until he continued reading. “Shane is a three-year-old boy from Middlesex County,” the letter stated. “Like most children his age, Shane loves to eat ice cream. In his free time, he loves to play with his toy cars and watch baseball, and especially enjoys cheering on the New York Mets. However, unlike most children his age, Shane was diagnosed with cancer.

Greg did not need to read further to realize the foundation established in his daughter’s name, whose leadership would have been elated beyond words to help make the wish of any child come true, was actually going to be able to play a small part in making the wish of his friend’s son a reality, adding exponential significance to the donation. Greg immediately stopped reading the letter and, through tears, called Mike to confirm his suspicions.

Greg: Mike, can I ask you an incredibly personal question?

Mike: Sure, what’s up?

Greg: Have you made a request through Make-A-Wish for Shane?

Mike: Yeah. We were just at the castle [a breathtaking wish-granting facility called The Samuel & Josephine Plumeri Wishing Place] on Thursday and his wish got approved. How did you know?

Greg (answering Mike’s query with a question of his own): Are you going to Disney?

Mike: Yeah. We leave on Saturday. How did you know?

After hanging up the phone and letting the news percolate, Mike, who was as incredulous as Greg, texted four words to his friend that encapsulate the statistical improbability of the Make-A-Wish pairing: “That is unbelievable! Speechless!”

Long before Make-A-Wish became involved, Marisa emailed to Mattel a letter and drawing of a doll she designed, named Petricia Pan, in the spirit of the toy company’s Ever After High collection. In her correspondence, Marisa wrote in part: “When I grow up I want to design doll outfits as my dream job. I truly hope you can take this doll into consideration and that you can make her a reality. It would mean the world to me to have my idols make a character for me that I created.”

Upon the request of Make-A-Wish, Mattel brought a prototype of the doll to life with every detail meeting Marisa’s specifications. Volunteers from Make-A-Wish delivered the doll to Marisa in specially designed packaging with an accompanying letter and artist renderings. Words cannot convey her elation.

Marisa was born with a complex cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries. A heart transplant, which was supposed to extend Marisa’s life, tragically cut it short after a postoperative complication developed into a rare form of Stage IV cancer, to which she succumbed following a valiant battle. Despite being hospitalized for more than two years and maintaining hundreds of doctor’s appointments, Marisa lived a vibrant life that inspired.

Marisa initially desired to help others through a request that Mattel sell her Petricia Pan doll with all proceeds benefiting Make-A-Wish and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which provided her and Shane with love and outstanding medical care.

Shane, whose cancer went into remission last June, returns to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia every three months for scans. He endured surgery to remove a tumor, six rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, 12 rounds of radiation and six rounds of immunotherapy. One of the chemotherapy drugs caused some hearing loss (Shane wears two hearing aids). He receives speech therapy and takes medication to regulate his thyroid but otherwise leads a normal and healthy life.

Those who have donated to The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, including many from the Middlesex High School community, helped fulfill Marisa’s desire to give back to Make-A-Wish and simultaneously grant Shane’s wish.

Middlesex High School participated in multiple fundraisers for The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, including one its football program sponsored and several others the Greater Middlesex Conference, of which Middlesex High School is a member, initiated. Some of those financial resources are now going to be applied as a partial donation to help Shane meet the Disney characters Marisa also loved.

A fact sheet from Make-A-Wish New Jersey reads, “We believe a single wish transforms lives.”

The message has meaning, not only for those whose wishes are granted, but for donors, such as The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, who truly understand why it is better to give than receive.

By | 2018-01-31T04:28:55+00:00 January 31st, 2018|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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