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Make-A-Wish Foundation Salutes ‘Remarkable Children’

A pair of local children has been singled out for being an “inspiration.” At their annual gala, the Make-A-Wish Foundation honored Sean Mellon and Simon Staples-Vangel for their ability to overcome obstacles and their dedication to the non-profit organization. “They are remarkable children who know the joy of a dream come true, possess the power of wishful thinking, and serve as inspiration to future wish families,” said Patricia Clemency, president and CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Metro New York. Both Sean and Simon are “wish children” – youngsters who had a dream fulfilled by the charitable foundation. Now 15 years old and living in Carroll Gardens, Sean had a heart transplant at just three years of age. “He probably caught a virus when he was 1-1? years old and it attacked his heart. He ultimately had a diluted cardiomyopathy – his heart just grows and grows until it gets so big that it loses its elasticity and it can’t pump. We didn’t know this until his third birthday,” said Sean’s father, Ray. “The doctor said he’s in heart failure and he’s going to die. His only hope was a transplant. He was in the hospital for three months.” Sean received a heart from a nine-year-old boy in Wisconsin who died of a brain aneurysm. Two years after his surgery, Sean had his wish to visit Disney World granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “I remember Mickey and meeting him. I squeezed his nose. It was wonderful,” Sean recalled. “It was Disney World but it was so much more than that,” Ray said. “What set it apart from just going to these places was that you had badges on that showed you were a Make-A-Wish child and you were treated absolutely special.” “They put me in the front of the line. I didn’t have to wait on the long lines. Everyone was excellent,” Sean said. “He felt so special and had so much fun in Florida. I can’t even tell you what a joy it was to see our son happy and be a child again,” Sean’s mother Pat said. In the ninth grade at the Churchill School in Manhattan, Sean’s health is monitored closely by his parents. “We almost lost him about two years ago. When he gets a cold, it’s something that has to be carefully watched. A couple of years ago, he had a cold that just kept getting worse and worse. He went into septic shock. He was in intensive care for eight days. At any time, things can happen but he is very strong. He takes his meds every day – eight or nine meds,” Ray said. However, “Sean is doing wonderful. He’s just a normal kid. If you saw him with 10 other kids and someone said point out the kid with a heart transplant, you wouldn’t be able to.” For his wish, Simon Staples-Vangel kicked-off a Nascar race in 1999. At six years of age, Simon stood in front of 100,000 people and started the race by announcing the famous line “Gentlemen, start your engines!” “It was my life’s dream,” the now 11-year-old said. “It was very cool after being laid up in the hospital.” The Park Slope resident had been undergoing aggressive treatment for neuroblastoma, which his mother Shirley Staples explained is a “kind of cancer that is of the nervous system but it metastasizes very quickly. He had a huge tumor around his kidney, which is where it starts. It was around his eyes. It was in his bones. It was head to toe.” Diagnosed with cancer when he was four years old, Simon’s condition prevented him from having his wish granted for two years. “We had to wait until he was strong enough for us to travel,” his mother said. “We gave him shots to boost his immune system.” When he finally made it to the Nascar race, Simon, who is now in remission, was given the royal treatment. “I met every driver that was starting the race,” he said. Serving as the grand marshal of the race, the youngster was even invited into the winner’s circle with first place driver Jeff Gordon. “I was just standing there and the next thing I knew he picked me up,” Simon recalled of Gordon. “My friends were just blown away by it when I told them.” A photo of the two, which was splashed across local newspapers the next day, remains a treasured item in the Staples-Vangel household. “Our child who had lost his joy in life got to do this thing and it changed him from being a victim into a celebrity,” Shirley Staples said. “He was someone really special.” Although their wishes have already been granted, Sean and Simon remain affiliated with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Simon and Sean are such devoted supporters of our mission that we have officially dubbed them ‘wish ambassadors.’ Along with their family, they continue to be involved with the Make-A-Wish family and raise funds to grant more wishes – confirming once again that people touched by a wish experience are touched forever,” Clemency said. “They’ve been very helpful,” Sean said of the organization. “I want to stay involved because it’s a great foundation for kids who have medical problems and it’s a wonderful way for kids with medical histories to have a normal life.”

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