MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - -- I wish to go, to meet, to be or to have. Most of the requests received by the Make-A-Wish Foundation fall into these four categories. For one 9-year-old Brookfield, Ill. native, his wish led him here for the II Marine Expeditionary Force Capabilities Exercise May 19.
With help from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern N.C., Angelo J. Circo’s wish to ride in a tank and experience the life of a Marine was granted.
The mission of the Make-A-Wish Foundation is to grant wishes to children ages 2 ½ - 18 with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
“I just wanted to see and maybe even touch a tank. To actually ride in one was awesome,” said A.J.
Charlene M. Gourlay, a wish coordinator with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern N.C., helped to organize A.J.’s visit to Camp Lejeune.
“He was first approached by Make-A-Wish volunteers at The University of Chicago Hospital. The Make-A-Wish Foundation of Illinois then did some research to find out where they could make A.J.’s dream a reality. That’s when they contacted me,” said Gourlay.
The non-profit organization accepts referrals from parents or legal guardian, medical physicians or the child themselves.
“It’s ultimately up to the doctor to determine whether or not a child’s medical condition qualifies them to receive a wish,” said Gourlay.
According to his parents, Richard K. Circo and Kelly L. Circo, A.J. has a rare genetic mutation of the pancreas. Due to its deterioration, his pancreas had to be removed.
The pancreas is responsible for producing digestive enzymes that break down foods into nutrients that the body will then absorb.
“There’s only one other person in the entire world with the same mutation, and they’re in Belgium. It is often referred to as an orphan disease because it is so rare,” said Mr. Circo.
After two surgeries and four months spent recovering in the hospital, staying on top of A.J.’s medical needs has become a daily grind.
“He’s on three different medications, has regulated eating habits, and requires regular insulin injections. There are no breaks. It’s a constant balancing act,” said Mrs. Circo.
His parents see this whole trip as a reward for all the tough times that A.J. has been through.
“He’s on cloud nine. We’re just standing back and enjoying how much fun he’s having. It’s a huge morale booster. He even wants to be pen pals with Lieutenant Cisek,” said Mrs. Circo.
First Lieutenant Jeffrey J. Cisek, the organic supply officer for maintenance battalion, 2nd Force Service Support Group, served as A.J.’s personal military escort.
“As soon as A.J. and his family set foot off the plane, I was there to greet them,” said Cisek.
Cisek wasn’t sure how his name came up for this duty, but he was definitely glad to be chosen for it.
“We went down to Riseley Pier the night before the CAPEX and saw all the Marines who were setting up for the next day. They were all just hanging out, so A.J. decided to go talk to them. Watching him spend some private time with his heroes was exciting for the both of us,” said Cisek.
Two great organizations joining forces for such a good cause was something that he was proud to be part of, said Cisek.
“When most kids go to the ocean, they get a shovel and pail. A.J. got to see an amphibious assault. The Marine Corps truly does it better,” said Cisek.
Since its inception in 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has touched more than 127,000 children worldwide. For A.J., riding in a tank and experiencing the life of a Marine may do more for him than modern medicine can.
“A.J.’s love for the military, the Marines especially, isn’t just a fad. Its been going on for the past two to three years now. He says he’s going to sign up as soon as he turns 18. Being part of this whole experience will hopefully give him the motivation to make it there,” said Mr. Circo.