Make-A-Wish Minnesota fulfills local teens wish in Watson

Jessica Stölen-Jacobson
Montevideo American-News

On Sunday afternoon, two area representatives for the Make-A-Wish Foundation visited the Goose Bar in Watson to present a gift to 17-year-old Caiden Harwick, son of Greg and Tara Harwick of Watson. Initially, a close friend of the family wrote a letter to Make-A-Wish in 2018, as fundraisers were being held in the Watson Community, hosted by the Lions Club, to raise funds for a kidney transplant surgery for Caiden, then 14 years old. After Make-A-Wish received the letter, contact was made with the family and initially, Caiden wished to travel to Australia, but due to travel restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those plans had to be altered. On Sunday, Make-A-Wish presented Caiden with his alternate wish, a Gibson guitar and amp. “He loves music, and his brother plays also,” said his mother Tara.

Caiden Harwick and his father Greg check out the Gibson guitar he was given through the Make-A-Wish Foundation on Sunday.

Caiden’s journey began when he was just four years old, according to his father Greg. “He started feeling sick. We went to the Cities to the Children’s Hospital for nine years and they never figured out what was wrong with him. Caiden had been undergoing dialysis and struggled with energy levels, sleeping often. He struggled to keep up with school work due to chronic exhaustion. We had an appointment right before school started, and by that time he was really sick. They told us they wanted to do a transplant, but we wanted a second opinion without having a diagnosis,” Greg says. The family decided to travel to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and within a couple of weeks, they finally had a diagnosis of aHUS, an extremely rare condition that can occur at any age and causes abnormal blood clots to form in the small blood vessels in the kidney. “By the time we got that diagnosis, his kidney was too far gone,” Greg says. 

Knowing that a transplant would be necessary, Caiden’s father was the first to apply to be a donor. “They told me if I wanted to do it, that I was too old. They were looking for somebody 18 to 35 years old. If I wanted to do it they said they’d find someone younger to give to Caiden and mine would go to somebody else. I was there for close to a week getting different tests done and shortly after that they called me back and said I would be the donor for Caiden, so that was kind of cool that it could go right to him,” Greg says. 

Greg a UPS worker had to be out of work for eight weeks due to lifting restrictions, Caiden was in the hospital for a week in recovery. Since the transplant surgery, Greg and Tara report that Caiden has been doing well. Bruce Helgeson, a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation from the Wood Lake area was one of the two volunteers at Sunday’s gift presentation. Helgeson noted that many people believe Make-A-Wish to be for dying children, but that’s not actually the case. “It’s for critical illnesses, so it’s people that have recovered too,” he says.  Helgeson has volunteered for Make-A-Wish for a few years now and has a few area children he is working with to fulfill their wishes. “It’s a nationwide program and they have a Minnesota office with 18 employees,” he says. “Every Wednesday, the volunteers get an email with waiting wishes and two of us sign up for it. We meet with them and explain the situation, ask for their wishes and then we coordinate those. We try to give a monthly enhancement to them, sending them something on their birthday and such.” 

Helgeson says he decided to join the organization after seeing a post from a Cottonwood resident on Facebook whose daughter works for the Make-A-Wish Minnesota headquarters looking for more volunteers. “I thought, well I’ve got some time,” he says. In order to join as a volunteer, Helgeson attended some training sessions and since has worked on a number of wishes in the local area. “It’s been kind of tough lately because with everything going on with COVID, the wishes have been taking a year or two when normally we try to get them taken care of in six to nine months.,” he says. In fact, the local Make-A-Wish volunteers first met with Caiden two years ago right after his birthday. In addition to the guitar and amp, Caden was gifted a hand-made sign created by Helgeson with a theme from the show “The Office” that Caiden enjoys, and a pizza party complete with cake was held for his friends and family that gathered at the Goose Bar for the gifting. 

To find out more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation and how to volunteer locally, visit the website for the Minnesota branch at https://wish.org/minnesota.