When 18-year-old Connor talks about his dreams, it is clear that he is shooting for the stars. “I’ve always loved space,” Connor said. “I want to be an astrophysicist and work for NASA.”
But for Connor, this dream didn’t always seem attainable. At birth, Connor was diagnosed with a severe gastrointestinal disorder, and more recently, he battled
complications that put him in critical care. His mom recalls how trying this time was for Connor and their family.
“Connor spent 67 days in the hospital and we truly didn’t know, moment to moment, if he was going to live or die,” Connor’s mom said.
Connor didn’t know either, but he wanted to have that conversation.
“He told me that if he dies, he wants to be cremated and shot up into space in a rocket… so he can make it to space,” Connor’s mom said.
Although that was a hard topic to tackle, it showed just how passionate Connor is about taking an interstellar mission.
But when Connor was referred to Make-A-Wish®
, he was able to turn his focus towards something more positive.
This change of thought is something many wish kids experience. According to a recent study published in Quality of Life Research, “…fantasizing about wish fulfillment may help replace negative automatic thoughts by positive ones that have been shown to be important when coping with life-threatening illness” (Shoshani 2015).
Thanks to Make-A-Wish® Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Connor got to do the next best thing to traveling into the stars – he took a trip to NASA to learn all about what goes on behind the scenes of space travel. While there, he got an exclusive tour of the facility, met real life astrophysicists and astronauts, and even got to go into a mockup of the international space station.
“When Connor was talking to the astrophysicists, they asked him if he knew what was going on in the news,” Conner’s mom said. “He said, ‘Yeah, they discovered seven new plants.”
That’s when the astrophysicists said to Connor, “Not they…. She,” and pointed to the head of the team, Dr. Susan Lederer, who discovered the TRAPPIST-1 planets.
Connor was in shock. He couldn’t believe he was meeting the astrophysicist who made such an incredible discovery. Dr. Lederer even took him into a separate room where NASA controls the satellite that moves the telescope in space.
“She basically agreed to mentor him as he goes through college,” Connor’s mom said, as he is heading to Ohio State University in the fall to study astrophysics. This was extremely special for Connor and made him feel closer to his dreams than ever before.
“Make-A-Wish helped me see what the people at NASA do on a day to day basis,” Connor said. “It means quite a bit because I got to do things that no one else will probably get to do, and I met a lot of amazing people.”
For Connor’s mom, seeing her child’s wish come true after all that he has been through was an irreplaceable experience.
“He has dimples on his face when he smiles,” she said. “I saw those dimples more in one day than in an entire year.”