Dreams Come True of Louisiana fulfills 6-year-old’s wish

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, March 16, 2022

DESTREHAN — Many families remember March 12, 2020 as the day the world began to shut down amid rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in Louisiana. For the McDonald family, March 12, 2020 was the start of a new journey even more frightening than a pandemic.

Brian and Abby took their 4-year-old son, Andrew, to the emergency room after noticing excess drooling. That subtle symptom led to Andrew being diagnosed with a ganglioglioma tumor, likely caused by his genetic condition known as neurofibromatosis type 1.

While the world quarantined, Andrew started the daunting process of chemotherapy. He traveled back and forth from his home in Destrehan to Children’s Hospital for months, finally completing treatment in Summer 2021.

Almost exactly two years past his diagnosis, Andrew’s bravery was celebrated in grand fashion with help from Dreams Come True of Louisiana.

Since life-threatening illnesses affect the entire family, Dreams Come True sent Andrew, his parents, and his sister on a trip to Florida. The family was welcomed into their own house inside the “Give Kids the World Village” and treated to three days at Disney World, two days at Universal Studios and one day at Legoland.

Abby McDonald said Dreams Come True of Louisiana reached out shortly after Andrew’s diagnosis, but between chemotherapy, the COVID-19 pandemic and a May 2020 flood that damaged their family home, the timing just wasn’t right. It wasn’t until Andrew told a doctor that he was saving up to go to Disney World that it was time to make his dreams come true.

The Dreams Come True team facilitated the trip every step of the way, even meeting the McDonald family at the airport terminal to escort them to their home away from home.

“We were all treated like stars,” Abby McDonald said. “It was good to get out. We have really been sheltered for the past two years. It was good for us to be together as a family.”

Andrew got to put a wish on a star that was hung overnight in the Castle of Miracles. At the Give Kids the World Village, he experienced a multitude of holidays in a single week, from Halloween trick-or-treating to decorating gingerbread cookies and receiving a gift from Santa. The family also enjoyed a poolside movie night, a pirate night, a birthday celebration, free food, and other activities such as putt-putt and a spa offering temporary tattoos. Andrew and his sister, Grace, were treated to free ice cream whenever they pleased. Meanwhile, at the theme parks, Andrew discovered he’s not too small to enjoy the biggest thrills, from fast-paced rollercoasters to the Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror.

Andrew’s dream come true was a chance to take his mind off of challenges he endures daily. His neurofibromatosis type 1 is a genetic condition that causes tumors, usually benign, to grow along the nervous system. Andrew took longer to learn to walk and has consistently required therapy to help with muscle coordination.

While Andrew still experiences pain in his legs, he was a trooper when it came to exploring Disney, Universal and Legoland. Even with a stroller and lightning passes in tow, the trip involved a lot of walking, and his parents were impressed to see him rise to the challenge.

“It really showed his determination and how much he can do. He never complained,” Abby said.

The McDonald family is thankful to Becky Prejean and Freddye Smith of Dreams Come True of Louisiana. In many ways, they have become part of the family, and Andrew was excited to call Ms. Becky to tell her all about the trip as soon as he returned home.

“They said this is just the beginning,” Brian McDonald said. “They told us they will always be here for Andrew.”

Dreams Come True of Louisiana originated in 1982, when J.L. NeSmith and others heard of a boy from Denham Springs who had cancer and had never had pizza. The organization’s first dream was granted when a pizza was delivered on a fire truck escorted by a police car. From there, the vision continued to grow, granting the dreams of children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses from all corners of the state.

The public can support Dreams Come True of Louisiana by attending the organization’s South Louisiana Crawfish Festival, Craft & Car Show being held from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 23 at the Lamar Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. The cost is $5 per person at the door, and children 12 and under get in free.

The fundraiser will feature a crawfish boiling contest, a jambalaya cook-off, a crackling cook-off, a crawfish eating contest, celebrity judges, a cornhole tournament, live music, inflatables, a classic car show, 150 craft booths and more.

For more information about Dreams Come True of Louisiana, call Freddye Smith at 225-933-9339.