Michael O'Hara thought that he was going to get ice cream at Dairy Queen with his parents and sister on Tuesday night, but instead found four Montana Highway Patrol Officers waiting to present him with an all-expense paid trip to Disney World.
O'Hara, 13, has Shwachman-Diamond Syndrome (SDS), a congenital disorder that causes digestion problems, pancreatic failure and bone marrow dysfunction. It can also lead to leukemia.
Nine months ago his mother, Michelle Aune, applied for a trip to Disney World with a wish-granting organization called the Montana Hope Project.
The Montana Hope Project was started in 1984 by the Association of Montana Troopers to grant wishes for critically ill children in Montana. Since then, the organization has granted over 300 wishes.
O'Hara was not alone in his wish to go to Disney World. A trip to the happiest place on earth is the most common wish that the Montana Hope Project grants. The average wish costs around $6,000.
Past wishes have included meeting celebrities, computer equipment, and vacations.
"First he said he wanted to meet the cast of High School Musical, but then he changed his mind and decided on Disney World," Michelle Aune said.
"It's also nice that the Montana Hope Project lets the kids receive their wishes before they get too sick to enjoy it," O'Hara's father, Dan Aune added.
O'Hara will start seventh grade at Chief Joseph Middle School in the fall. This past year he spent a week every other month undergoing treatment in Seattle.
"The schools have just been so understanding," said Michelle Aune, "They are even prepared to use SKYPE so he can be part of his classes when he is in hospital."
It was Officer Derek Brown's first time presenting a recipient with their wish. Officers Dave Oliverson, Brett Charvat and Michael Walrath also attended the event.
"This is an excellent opportunity for young people who are having some troubles to step out of that sadness for a minute and just have some fun," Oliverson said.
O'Hara, his parents and his sister, Genea Serrano, 20, leave for Florida this Friday. They will be staying for a week.
His parents found out that they had been approved for the trip a few months ago, but they kept it a secret from O'Hara.
"It was hard. I'm not any good at keeping secrets," Michelle Aune said, "But he will be over the moon when we get home tonight."
The Montana Hope Project does not receive any grants or government money and is not associated with any national wish organization. They raise money for the wishes through fundraising, corporate sponsors and individual donations.
The group also hosts annual reunions for all past recipients and their families every June near Glacier National Park and at Fairmont Hot Springs every winter. This year more than 100 people attended the reunion, according to Brown.
The Montana Hope Project is hosting their annual Ride for Hope motorcycle fundraiser July 24. For more information, visit http://montanahope.org.
Samantha Booth can be reached at email@example.com.