A Hawaii wish granted
Hunter Thompson had heard enough to know he probably was going to Hawaii on a Make-A-Wish trip.
He just wasn’t sure exactly where or what he’d be doing.
That mystery ended March 31 at Triad Baptist Church. Surrounded by friends and family, Hunter learned from his wish granters at Make-A-Wish that he and his family would be swimming with dolphins and sea turtles off the coast of Oahu, ziplining at the Kualoa Ranch where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed, enjoying the views of Diamond Head from the Sheraton Waikiki on Waikiki Beach, and much more during their April 13-21 trip to the Aloha State.
Back from the family’s Make-A-Wish trip to Hawaii, Hunter, 16, said, “It was a dream come true to go swimming with the dolphins and to also go ziplining in the mountains of Hawaii. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing.”
While in Hawaii, Hunter also hiked to a remote lighthouse, snorkeled, enjoyed a traditional Hawaiian luau feast, and toured Pearl Harbor.
“Our trip was absolutely fabulous,” said Hunter’s mother, Melissa, of the experience also enjoyed by her husband, Chris, and Hunter’s brother Ethan, 12. ”The Make-A-Wish Foundation is an amazing organization. Hunter was able to do all of the activities they had planned for him to do and then some.
“Everyone had an amazing time and we found the island to be a little piece of heaven on earth! It was a definite break from life at home with lots of memories made.”
The trip came more than a year after Hunter’s oncologist at Brenner Children’s Hospital nominated him for a Make-A-Wish trip after his August 2017 brain tumor diagnosis and two subsequent surgeries. Children must be between 2 ½ an 18 years old and have faced a life-threatening illness to qualify for a Make-A-Wish experience.
In May 2018, Make-A-Wish granters Cindy and Johnny McKenzie visited the Thompson’s home to learn Hunter’s wishes, and outline how Make-A-Wish trips work.
A wish granter since 2012, Cindy had asked to personally handle Hunter’s wish since her brother Jonathan Day and Chris had gone to Big Oak Christian Academy in Biscoe, North Carolina, from elementary through high school and remain close friends.
The list of options Hunter outlined for the McKenzies included swimming with dolphins and ziplining in Hawaii, sledding with huskies and seeing the Northern Lights in Alaska, visiting the Grand Canyon, seeing the dolphin rehab center in Florida, and attending the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York and hitting some balls with one of the sport’s superstars.
“We filled out all the paperwork and asked Hunter what his wish was,” Cindy recalled. “There were several but Hawaii was the clear favorite.”
About four months ago, the Make-A-Wish Central and Western North Carolina chapter in Charlotte — one of two in the state and among 62 nationwide — approved the Hawaii trip, and the McKenzies then set up the visit to Triad last month to officially present the trip packet to Hunter and the gift card the family would use for daily meals and other expenses.
The Thompsons celebrated the official trip reveal moment with a cake that read “Hunter is going to Hawaii.”
“What I enjoy the most is just seeing the kids and the joy that it brings them,” Cindy McKenzie said of Hunter’s reaction to the trip details. “These families have been through so much and to be able to bring them a little bit of joy is wonderful. I think most of the time we get a bigger blessing than they do just by being able to offer some hope and encouragement and something for them to look forward to.”
Melissa said she and Chris hope the trip serves as a turning point for Hunter in his recovery, and a recharging and reset for the family as they move forward together.
“For Hunter, it’s our hope he can utilize this trip to put the worst part of his experience with the brain tumor behind him, and realize now he can move forward with confidence and resume his normal life,” she said.
Added Chris, “We hope he doesn’t see his past as a setback but rather that he has a great story to tell about his journey he has traveled, and still will travel the rest of his life. We hope he uses his story of faith and how it got him through the hardest times of our lives to be an encouragement to others going through trials.”
Hunter has already seen God use his life’s stoutest test as a testimony for others. Like Joshua in the Bible, he’s drawn on his story to encourage others to have courage and keep trusting in God during their own struggles.
It’s the same message he told his parents as he was being rolled into surgery: “It will all work out.”
“God has really used me to tell others that ‘It’s all going to work out OK,’ ” Hunter said. “I have met people having hard times at home and have been able to reach out to them and tell them it’s all going to be OK for them too if they trust in God and let Him lead and care for them.”