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Countywide : Wishes Come to Pass for Ill Kids

Under ordinary circumstances, 5-year-old Connor O’Brien would not be able to go to the mall to see Santa Claus or ride a reindeer carousel. After 25 weeks of chemotherapy for a heart tumor, his body cannot resist the colds and viruses of other children.

So when the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Orange County offered him a special tour of South Coast Plaza’s Christmas display and direct access to Santa Claus, his mother jumped at the chance.

“They have been great,” said Doreen O’Brien, as Connor and six other critically ill children from Orange County wandered through Christmas displays early Tuesday morning.

Before stores opened and the shopping crowd arrived, the youngsters rode the carousel as many times as they could stomach, sat below a 55-foot Christmas tree for a story and were treated to breakfast at a French bakery. Mall stores donated stuffed animals, coloring pens and stickers as presents.

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“It’s wonderful,” said Melinda Nelson of Garden Grove, whose son Hunter suffers from an acute form of leukemia. “It’s such a gift to be able to do things with the children.”

The morning event was one of several parties the Irvine-based foundation sponsors for gravely ill children in addition to fulfilling their greatest wish. Since it was founded in 1983, the volunteer group has granted Orange County children more than 800 wishes--ranging from trips to Walt Disney World to a swim with dolphins.

“It’s great to see these kids have a good time,” said Samantha Soto, 30, an oncology nurse at Children’s Hospital of Orange County who turned up for the mall tour. Soto spends 10 to 20 hours a week doing volunteer work for the foundation.

According to volunteer Pam Mercado, 47, of Santa Ana, the most sought-after item is a computer. Following that is a family trip to Walt Disney World.

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After considering a plan to go to Yellowstone National Park, Hunter Nelson said he wanted to go to Walt Disney World.

And on Tuesday he added another wish to his list: a miniature monster truck. Nelson pointed to a blue remote-control truck with oversized wheels in the window of F.A.O. Schwarz.

“I’ll show Santa if he can come over here,” he said.


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