Due to a life threatening illness, 15-year-old Natalie Lowdermilk was granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation in May. She was a little surprised when they first contacted her and her family. Like most people in the area, the Lowdermilks weren't aware that the Make-A-Wish Foundation was available in Clay County.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation representative from Brazil, Teresa Bradley, worked with the Lowdermilks to complete Natalie's wish. Diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in November 2003, Natalie chose a bedroom makeover for her wish.
The average time to complete a wish is six to eight months. Natalie's project was started in May 2004, to line up the needed funding and volunteer help. It was anticipated that the day to actually do the makeover would be the end of July. However, by the time all of the funding was secured, the date was changed to November.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation, initially founded in 1980, was registered in Indiana in 1983. According to Teresa, only two wishes have been granted in Clay County since 1999. She thinks the reason for that is that most people aren't aware the program is offered here.
To qualify for the program a child must be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, be a resident of Indiana and he or she cannot have had a previous wish granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation or any other wish-granting organization. A child's illness does not have to be considered terminal for him or her to qualify.
At the time of the referral, the child must have reached the age of 2 1/2 and must be under the age of 18. Children younger than 2 1/2 years old will be considered if the child's doctor certifies that the child is not expected to reach the age of 2 1/2 and that the child is able to identify a wish.
Anyone who knows of a child who meets the criteria for eligibility should talk to the family first to see if they are interested in having a wish granted for their child. Then, the family or that person may call the Foundation.
After a child is referred, the primary physician is provided the medical criteria to qualify a child for a wish. The doctor makes a determination based on the child's medical history, diagnosis, response to treatment and prognosis. Based on the physician's assessment, they will qualify the child as medically eligible for a wish.
Children may be referred by three sources:
- Medical professionals treating the child, such as doctors, nurses, social workers or child-life specialists
- A parent or legal guardian of the potential wish child
- The potential wish child
Referral sources such as teachers, relatives and others may refer a child with the consent of the family.
After a child is qualified, two Make-A-Wish volunteers will visit the child and the family to determine the true wish of the child.
Volunteers are needed in many capacities. Some people like working directly with the family and the child. For others, who think direct contact may be too emotionally difficult for them, there are numerous, additional jobs.
Wish resource helpers are needed. Wish resource volunteers are responsible for soliciting and securing in-kind and cash gifts on behalf of a specific wish in their own community.
People can volunteer by helping with fundraisers or special events or by donating money. Volunteers are needed to participate on planning committees and to help with administrative tasks in the Make-A-Wish office.
Anyone who has a gift for public speaking and conveying heartfelt messages is greatly needed to get the word out that the Make-A-Wish Foundation exists and is available in Clay County.
Potential volunteers will begin the process with an interview/orientation. Next, they will attend a wish-granting training session. A new volunteer will work with and be mentored by a veteran wish-granting volunteer on their first visit.
"I think they're a wonderful organization," Cindy Lowdermilk said. "They're not well known around this community. Natalie was so excited about her wish. I hope this exposure will help make the public be more aware of the organization and they can get more utilization.
"I think there are many children in Clay County whose lives could be enhanced by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Natalie would be pleased if she's able to make a difference in someone's life."
Natalie's wish was to culminate in November. Unfortunately, her condition worsened so the Foundation moved the date back to July 31. Her health continued to deteriorate rapidly so the makeover was done July 23.
Natalie's wish activated more than 50 volunteers. They showed up at the Lowdermilk home at 7 a.m. and worked for over 13 hours to complete the project.
Some volunteers were adults from various area churches. Many were 4-H kids, friends and school mates of Natalie and Emily. They came despite the fact that they and their animals were due at the fairgrounds. They came to help their friend as she had helped so many with her caring spirit.
Natalie Lowdermilk died July 27. Besides a warm, comfortable room for her sister, she left a legacy of love to all of her family, friends and community.
Réna Ramos, a friend of the Lowdermilks shared her feelings about Natalie.
"She was always herself, always encouraging," said Réna. "She lived her life for God and was someone I could look up to."
Cindy Lowdermilk expressed heartfelt emotions on the loss of her kind and loving daughter.
"God gives you the strength to deal with what you have to," She said. "Natalie's out of pain. She's in Heaven with her dad. What more could I ask for Natalie?"