In honor of our 35th Anniversary in 2019, we will be focusing on some of the more than 8,600 wishes we have granted in our history. Here is an update on a wish we granted back in 2014.
After diagnosing Sam with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, his doctors urged him to take it easy. But by age six he was already ignoring their orders: he’d fallen in love with ice hockey and couldn’t be convinced to stay off the ice. “Every time I would go to see my cardiologist as kid, he’d tell my family and me that I shouldn’t be playing hockey,” shares Sam. “I never listened because hockey and following my favorite team, the San Jose Sharks, are what got me through my surgeries. When I would be in the hospital, I’d make sure I wouldn’t miss a game!”
Eventually the doctors came around and stopped requesting that Sam give up on his passion for hockey. When Sam was granted a wish at age 17, the choice was easy. He wanted to be a San Jose Shark.
“I found out about my wish at one of my hockey games, by hearing the voice of [Sharks broadcaster] Randy Hahn on the PA system,” Sam recounts. Hahn’s message was followed by a video of some of the players telling Sam he was going to be a San Jose Shark.
“Knowing that the players and Randy took the time to make the recording and video for me made me feel special,” he says. “It’s not every day your favorite sports team invites you to experience a day with them.”
On Tuesday, March 18, 2014, Sam’s wish came true. The day-long wish kicked off with morning practice, during which Sam got to skate with the team and practice shooting. Next, Sharks general manager Doug Wilson signed Sam to a one-day contract, and soon he was suiting up to join the team as they took on the Florida Panthers. That evening, Sam became the first non-player in Sharks history to skate out through the trademark Shark Head for pregame warmups.
“My favorite memory of my wish by far has to be skating out of the Shark Head with the team and standing on the blue line during the national anthem,” says Sam “I was starting to fight back the tears until ultimately I got to the bench hearing the crowd cheer for me and my name being announced and then as I took a glance at the Jumbotron I couldn’t help but cry. It was like an emotion I’ve never felt before; I was so overwhelmed with happiness.”
Five years later, Sam is still an enormous Sharks fan and his wish day still holds a special place in his heart. “It was the best day of my life and still is,” he says. “There’s nothing like experiencing something you’ve dreamed of as a kid growing up.”
Sam’s mom, Lisa, credits the wish as a turning point for Sam. “I cannot thank Make-A-Wish, their sponsors, volunteers, etc. enough for changing Sam’s life,” she says. “As a mom I have seen the difference in him: he has more drive than ever to meet his goals in life and push to get them. He doesn’t let any ailment restrain him.”
Today, Sam is working full-time at a hockey store, and plays hockey nearly every day. He’ll soon be transferring to a new college, and he plans to major in either sports broadcast communications or digital media arts. He is in good health and requires only annual check-ups with a cardiologist.
Sam also recently completed wish granter training, and he’ll soon be on the other side of the wish experience, helping grant wishes for kids facing critical illnesses. “Having my wish granted has meant so much to myself and my family, which is why I wanted to start volunteering,” Sam says. “To be able to help kids in a similar position as I’ve experienced through my life is something near to my heart.”
Having experienced one firsthand, Sam knows that wishes can be life-altering for wish kids and their families.
“Wishes are important because they give wish kids hope, joy, excitement and memories that last a lifetime,” says Sam. “Memories that the kid can always look back at when they might be going through a hard time, and that memory can rejuvenate that kid’s belief that everything will be okay."
Images and video courtesy of the San Jose Sharks.