Foundations help grown-up dreams come true

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Two years ago, Matt Hendon realized his back was bleeding from a mole that had gone undetected because it blended in with a tattoo he has. The spot, sadly, turned out to be a cancerous growth.

"(The cancer) had already spread to other areas of my body," said Hendon, 33, of Le Roy in central Illinois, who is married and the father of three children.

But that didn't stop Hendon and his wife from hopping on a jet to Las Vegas, to go on the honeymoon they never had and to meet his idol, ventriloquist and comedian Terry Fator.

"The trip was amazing," said Hendon, who visited the desert city for four days in July. "Fator was a really nice guy. It was also nice to get away and to forget about things for a while."

The trip was funded by Hospice Dreams, a local program that is similar to the popular Make-A-Wish Foundation for children with terminal illnesses, but which is exclusively for adults.

The program, which is based in Bradley, Ill., has provided "dreams" to 140 people since it began in 2008. Its goal for this year is 250.

The program is associated with Passages Hospice and until recently was formally known as Passages Hospice Dreams. It is available to anyone over 18 who is a patient in the care of any hospice.

Organization officials believe dreams are a "palliative treatment," giving adults a chance to experience normalcy and forget about their illness for a little while.

"It allows them to enjoy life again," said Kansas Swain, director of the dream organization. "It can be empowering for them while giving them hope and joy."

She added that some people are hesitant at first when approached about being beneficiaries of the program, with many saying, "Why me? I am not special." But most eventually become thrilled and want to fulfill their dreams.

The dream requests are made by family, friends, caregivers and sometimes the patients themselves, and they vary, Swain said. Many younger people want something more adventurous like a vacation, while older patients often seek something a little simpler such as a visit with a family member, she said.

On Saturday, Chicago resident Raymond Dombkowski, 55, fulfilled his dream. He met his newborn granddaughter and had a meal with about a dozen family members at a steakhouse in Norridge.

Dombkowski, who has lung and bone cancer and has been living in a nursing home for about two months, didn't feel comfortable about his 2-month-old granddaughter, Kyla, coming to the nursing home.

"She's beautiful," said Dombkowski, who was teary-eyed and holding Kyla. "She looks like her father. This is a wonderful day for me. It's great to get out in the sunshine and to spend some time with my family."

In some cases, especially if the patient's condition suddenly starts to deteriorate, the dream must be carried out quickly.

Northbrook resident Lawrence Ori, 62, had already requested to meet rock star Steven Tyler when his condition suddenly took a turn for the worse in April 2011. Hospice Dreams contacted Tyler's publicists and immediately set up a meeting with him on Skype (a live computer video feed and chat service).

Ori — who was in grave condition in a hospital bed — suddenly smiled after Tyler's image appeared on a laptop screen. Tyler said, "Lawrence? This is Steven Tyler. I'm coming to you from L.A. and I'm so glad to meet you," according to a video recording of the event.

Tyler then sang the hit song "Dream On," and Ori was seen nodding his head in time with the music, according to people who were at his bedside.

"Tears came down his eyes; he was so happy," said Swain. Ori, who suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy, died two hours later.

Northfield resident Elsie Matthys, 92, simply asked Hospice Dreams for a Christmas Eve lunch with her family. Her stepdaughter, Barbara Moore, said that while it seemed like an easy request, getting the fragile woman to her home from a nearby nursing facility was a challenge.

"It sounds simple, but it was an extraordinary effort," said Moore, adding that Matthys was assisted to the lunch by drivers, nurses and other medical personnel.

Moore had a total of 20 family members at the lunch.

"(The lunch) gave her a chance to feel like everyone else," said Moore. "To have her spend time out of the nursing home, and with her family, was a wonderful experience for her. It was so special."

A similar organization called The Dream Foundation, headquartered in California, was created in 1994 and was one of the first organizations to start offering dream fulfillment for adults.

The Dream Foundation oversees 2,500 dreams per year including dozens a year for patients living in Illinois. The foundation assists adults who have been given a prognosis of a year or less left of life.

Erinn Lynch, a spokeswoman for the organization, also finds that dream requests vary from patient to patient. Lynch said, however, that many patients request basic necessity items for their dreams, such as dentures, bed clothes and even hot water heaters.

"Many people have very basic requests," said Lynch, adding that more people have been requesting necessity items since the economy has gone sour. "But some people, especially younger people, may want to take a trip. We had one parent who just wanted to take her kids to Disneyland. For a parent with young children, they often believe their sickness is a burden on the family, and they just want to feel like the caregiver again, giving them a sense of normality."

Both organizations rely greatly on donations. Companies, including some airlines and hotels, often donate and help out with free services or reduced prices.

The Dream Foundation has a $3 million budget per year with 85 percent going directly to dreams. Hospice Dreams, which is only a few years old, spent about $30,000 last year on dreams.

"Many companies and individuals want to help out," said Lynch. "Many are touched after hearing the patient's story."

Roselle resident Whit Robinett, 74, also fulfilled his dream recently with Hospice Dreams by visiting the Brookfield Zoo in July. He even went behind the scenes to feed a rhino. Robinett, a former college math teacher, took several trips to Africa earlier in his life and has always loved animals.

Robinett, who is receiving hospice for a terminal illness, lives in a nursing home and is confined to a wheelchair and has trouble speaking. "It was a wonderful day for him," said his nurse, Iwona Wiater, who went along to the zoo with him. "It was also a little emotional for him. At one point, tears were coming down his eyes. Looking at the giraffes made him cry."

For more information visit http://www.hospicedreams.org or http://www.dreamfoundation.org.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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