DAYTON, Ohio- A little boy faced with a life-threatening illness enjoys the wish of his life meeting Dale Earnhardt, Jr. through Kids Wish Network.
At about four months old, baby Mikey showed the most interest in NASCAR races on television, following every turn with his eyes and gurgling with delight as the cars raced around the track. At the age of one, the precocious little boy was given his very first toy car, a miniature of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s vehicle at the time. Since then, Mikey’s love of NASCAR racing has only grown; in his four years, nothing has diminished this passion, not even his condition.
You see, when Mikey was born, doctors informed his parents that their little boy suffered from a serious medical condition called VATERL Syndrome, which is a term that describes a variety of problems related to a child’s vertebral, cardiac, trachea/esophageal and renal systems, and affect their limbs. As part of this condition, Mikey was born with Blue Baby Syndrome, and as the name suggests, Mikey’s heart did not function properly resulting in very low blood oxygen levels. As an infant, Mikey underwent a large intestine resection, and at just four months old he endured open-heart surgery. He was also born without a left thumb or the forearm bone that leads to it.
A phone call from a Kids Wish Network professional fundraiser gave Mikey’s parents the information they needed to pave the road to having their little boy’s wish granted. After the initial call, “it all went so quickly,” said Mikey’s mother, Angela. Soon after that, Mikey was given his very own Wish Coordinator, named Madeline, who was going to make Mikey’s dream of meeting his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., come true. With the help of Wish Funding Specialist, Donna, and some truly outstanding sponsors, Madeline organized a racing vacation to top all others which included not only the meeting with Mr. Earnhardt, but tickets to the NASCAR race for Mikey and his family, a trip to the pits, tickets to Ripley’s Aquarium and much, much more!
Their first couple of days in South Carolina were full of outstanding hospitality and a bunch of great experiences for Mikey and his family. When they opened the door of their suite at The Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort and Spa at Grand Dunes, they were in awe of the spectacular oceanfront view from their room. That night, Mikey and his family were treated to a fantastic dinner at Planet Hollywood. Dinner the next day was at Joe’s Crab Shack, where their waiter, Brian, and the rest of the staff regaled Mikey with a boisterous rendition of the theme song to his favorite show, “Spongebob Squarepants.” According to Angela, Brian “went the extra mile and he didn’t have to do that. It is amazing that the people were so nice. It made us feel so welcome. We’ve never felt that before.”
Though their first two days were awesome beyond belief, it was their third day in South Carolina that was truly “the big one” for little Mikey. “The whole thing was just out of this world,” said Angela. “Mikey knew that he was special before all this, but it all really showed him how wonderful he really is.” For Mikey, being a VIP at the NASCAR SpeedPark in South Carolina was “just something else!” Through the outrageous generosity of Go Daddy.com, Mikey was given tickets to the big race and got to hang out in the special hospitality tent. There he met with WWE wrestling diva and “Go Daddy Girl”, Candice Michelle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, and he was the only child to have the privilege of sitting in one of Dale Jr.’s racecars. Mikey even got to take a guided tour of the pits where he witnessed the fast-paced action of the NASCAR world firsthand!
Of course, out of everything that Mikey experienced at the track, his favorite part of the trip was meeting the man himself, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Though he had lots to say to Dale Jr. beforehand, upon meeting him, Mikey was tongue-tied at first and just kept handing Mr. Earnhardt items, including a wooden car that he had made for Dale Jr., and things to autograph. By the end of the meeting however, Mikey overcame his fears and dashed after the famous driver as he got up to leave, grabbed Dale Jr. by the leg and gave him a big hug, proclaiming, “I love you, Junior!” This prompted a warm smile to light upon Mr. Earnhardt’s face as he reached down to pat the enthusiastic little boy on the back. “I love you too, buddy,” he said. It was truly an experience that Mikey and his family will never forget.
After meeting his hero, Mikey and his family watched the race, where he cheered his favorite driver on and was thrilled to witness the real-life speed of the racecars. “Once the cars got going, Mikey just yelled, ‘They’re going so fast! They’re going 60 miles an hour!’ He made everyone laugh,” said Angela. “I’ve never seen him smile like that…it was the time of his life. He was on cloud nine the whole time!”
Now that he’s back home, Mikey resides in a dream, re-living his racing experiences with the souvenirs and pictures that he brought home with him. “Everything has been so wonderful for him. That you all [at Kids Wish Network] want to give something like that to a little kid is just amazing.” According to his mother, Mikey attributes all that has happened to his Wish Coordinator, Madeline, and to his “Guardian Angel,” Camille, from the Dale Junior Foundation. About his Wish Coordinator, Mikey even said during his wish that “she’s making my dreams come true!” “Thank you for giving us all something we’ll never forget,” said Mikey’s mom. “We were in paradise.”
Kids Wish Network would like to thank the following for helping to make Mikey’s wish extra special: Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Go Daddy.com, NASCAR SpeedPark, American Legion Post 675, The Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort and Spa at Grand Dunes, Ripley’s Aquarium, Joe’s Crab Shack, Planet Hollywood and Thrifty Car Rental.
Kids Wish Network is a nationally recognized non-profit organization dedicated to infusing hope, creating happy memories, and improving the quality of life for children. If you know a child between the ages of 3 and 18 who may be in need of its wish granting services, please call 727-937-3600 or toll free 888-918-9004. For more information on Kids Wish Network, visit their website at www.kidswishnetwork.org