Planes soaring over skyscrapers, trains rattling over apartments, cars zooming through traffic – this is Chicago. For Charlie, transportation isn’t just the way to reach a destination: It’s a gateway to a dream adventure and a unique view of the city.
Charlie – who wasn’t supposed to live past his first birthday – continues to beat the odds while dealing with partial facial paralysis and epileptic seizures. When Charlie shared his wish with Make-A-Wish® volunteers, they knew it was time to create an unforgettable way for Charlie to experience these modes of transportation. So the wish team, its donors and sponsors – including Southwest Airlines – jumped into action.
Charlie’s arrival in this magnificent city starts with the famous “El,” the elevated train system that snakes throughout the city. He joins Chicagoans on their way to work and play. It’s perfect for Charlie to gaze at parks, old houses, really tall buildings and the chaotic Chicago streets as he heads to Chicago Midway International Airport.
At the airport, management staff, police officers and Southwest Airlines personnel welcome Charlie’s one-of-a-kind visit with gift bags and a personalized bright-orange safety vest, which is required to be worn when down on the tarmac. Charlie wears the jacket as he rides on a pushback tug to move a plane from the gate out to the runway.
He boards another plane and tours the cockpit and then heads to the air traffic control tower, learning the complicated ballet of the taxiways and runways. His hosts commemorate his experience by giving him a mounted runway light with his name engraved on it.
Then it’s time for the Chicago Fire Department to honor Charlie with lunch and tour of the fire trucks, complete with a fire hose demonstration.
Since there’s nothing like seeing the city from the air, the Chicago Police Department arranges a helicopter tour for Charlie. Hovering over the vast Windy City was the highlight of Charlie’s day.
Charlie is buoyant as he climbs out of the helicopter. And so is every volunteer who made time to be part of his wish. Dozens of people throughout Chicago felt the impact of a Make-A-Wish experience – for Charlie, and for themselves.
While Charlie couldn’t think of the words to express his excitement over this adventure-filled day, his adopted mother, Kathy, said "it's the most loving experience he has ever had.” She adds the trip was a “week of freedom from worry, and being cared for by strangers whose only motivation is a love for kids.”