It starts with me being born, a happy and healthy little lady, in a small town in the Texas Panhandle. My dad was a wheat farmer, and we lived on the family farm with fuzzy sheep, cute kittens and wide-open spaces. I was a normal kid, doing her thing and having fun learning about the world. Then, around the age of four, I started to complain of tummy aches.
Over the next couple of years the problems grew worse. We lived in a small town where specialty medical care wasn’t available, so we had to travel to seek answers. When I was eight, we moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The reason we moved was not actually my medical problems, but DFW is a major medical center, and we took advantage of that. For several more years, we still received the same answers – “Lauren is too stressed, it’s all in her head,” or, another favorite, “Lauren eats too much cheese!”
After years of severe abdominal issues, hospital stays and no answers, my diagnosis finally came when I was thirteen years old. At the time, I weighed in at a little over sixty pounds and was four feet eleven inches tall. My diagnosis was that I had chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction (try saying that five times fast!) Basically, my intestines act like they are physically obstructed and do not absorb nutrients.
Right after my diagnosis, I had a port placed and was put on IV nutrition. It’s called TPN (total parenteral nutrition) and puts nutrients directly into my blood stream. I was very thankful to be getting adequate nutrition, but did not realize that my difficult days were far from over. TPN was not my cure-all, and I would continue to find myself in lots of pain with many hospital visits. It was kind of difficult to accept, but my reality was that I had a chronic illness.
During one hospital stay when I was about fifteen, I remember returning to my room after spending time in the playroom. My mom was there, and told me that my doctor and some people had come by and talked to her about me getting to make a wish for something that would bring some sunshine to my gloomy days. It was such a special moment!
Ideas started flowing on the spot! What in the world would I pick? What a big choice! Being the indecisive adult that I am now, I can look back and see that that part of my personality started very early on.
If you know me, it would come as no surprise that I actually spent years pondering my wish. I had a lot of rules for my wish – it had to be out of the box, and ultimately be something that could bring me happiness for years to come. At the time, I was frustrated by my inability to make this amazing opportunity happen. Looking back though, I’m so glad that I waited for the right moment.
As a high school student, I enjoyed art. I immersed myself in doing creative things to make time pass when I didn’t feel well and missed school (and, believe me, I missed a lot of school). I attended a summer art course in Oakland, California, and was selected as one of the outstanding students. My senior year, I spent a lot of time selecting the college I wanted to attend, and chose the Oregon College of Art and Craft. I packed my things and health forced me to withdraw from school and return home after about eight months.
When I was twenty years old, I still hadn’t figured it all out on the wish front. This is very atypical for most Wish Kids, and I wouldn’t recommend such a timeline if you’re not me, but just you wait.
I’d been on TPN for about eight years, and it had started to cause some liver damage. So, it was decided that I would take a break and see how I did on oral intake. Unfortunately, this single decision led to some of the worst health problems I have ever had. It also happened to be the time that I had to make my wish, or I was going to be too old. Talk about perfect timing! While visiting my aunt in southern California, I landed in the hospital once again for an extended stay. My home base was still in the Dallas area, but my Make-A-Wish team called to discuss my wish with me during this time.
I wished for an art studio in my backyard!
When I finally returned home after a two-month hospital stay in California, there was an adorable white and yellow studio waiting for me to fill it with art goodies!
Going home to this blank canvas waiting to be transformed into my own art studio after such a trying time was an incredibly magical experience. Getting to fill this little oasis with pieces picked out at my favorite vintage shops to make it perfect brought all the sunshine a girl could wish for.
I spent many days, even days when I was totally depleted, in my beautiful space surrounded by things that brought me joy. I got to be creative and feel the sunshine beaming in through the cute little windows. The studio made hard days easier, and good days even better. I will be forever grateful for that little oasis, and the people at Make-A-Wish who came together to make my wish come true.
In the summer of 2017, I found myself proudly calling Fayetteville, Arkansas home. I also had a longing in my heart to become involved with Make-A-Wish on the other end of things – as a wish granter.
I mentioned earlier that having my wish granted brought all the sunshine one could hope for. I don’t know how it’s possible, but granting a child a wish brings even more sunshine than that!
One favorite story and connection I’ve made while wish granting was with a sweet little girl named Karla. Karla had wished for a huge party, and I got to be a part of her “wish reveal” to let her know that her wish was coming true. To make her wish reveal even more special, I got to help her pick out some beautiful jewelry and a tiara to wear to her party.
While we were shopping, I leaned over to her and asked her if she knew anyone else with a feeding tube. She shook her head ‘no.’ Then, I asked her if she knew that I had a feeding tube just like hers. She looked up at me with a huge smile and shook her head ‘yes,’ and giggled!
That day, I learned that “tubies” (some of us with feeding tubes refer to ourselves as “tubies”) have some magical way of knowing other “tubies.” I’m pretty sure Karla helped me gain my magical power that day!
Having a deep understanding of the gloom that fills lots of days in the lives of children dealing with critical illnesses helps make my connection with wish kids even more special. I guess there really is some kind of instant connection and understanding between me being a wish kid myself and the wish kids I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
The power of a wish does not stop with the wish kid and his or her family. I have been on both sides, as a wish kid and a wish granter, and I have totally felt that magic – it is definitely real and strong.