Invisible Illness by Brandon Lindsey

What does a sick kid look like? Some wear a mask. Some are bald. Some are confined to a wheelchair. Some have scars. Some are accompanied by a service dog. Some walk differently or have obvious deformities. We all know what a sick kid looks like…or do we?

We always enjoy flying with American Airlines, especially when we’re on a Dream Experience. They are so good at making our Dream Kids feel special! When flying American Airlines, it is not uncommon for our Dream Kids to get special treatment like a trip to the cockpit, pilot wings, jr. log books, special recognition over the PA system, and a little extra care from the flight attendants. It may not sound like a big deal, but I assure you that to these kids and their families it is a very big deal! This week, American Airlines helped escort Dream Kids Jack and Griffin to Seattle, WA where they would live out their dream of meeting the Seattle Seahawks. Not only did the airline extend the special treatment mentioned above, this time the entire team was bumped to Priority boarding!

We’ve all seen the jockeying for position that takes place when the boarding process begins. People will typically flock to the boarding lane and stand guard as passengers with legitimate Priority boarding access fight to wedge their way to the front. Griffin and Jack’s families were given permission to pre-board by staff members, but to get there they had to pass through the overly anxious passengers from Zone 5…or what I like to call the “gatekeepers.” As Griffin and Jack finally found their way through the maze, we heard an angry and gruff voice say

“Why do they get to go first?” We all turned to see where it came from but Griffin’s mother, Hilary, had already zeroed in on the the perpetrator. She responded, “Because they are sick.” To which he quickly replied, “They don’t look sick.”

Now one thing that I’ve learned since we started Dream On 3 is that NOTHING can/should stand between a mother and her sick child. I fully expected Hilary to transform into a giant, green bone crushing Avenger or to have knives suddenly extend from between her fingers. However, she responded with grace and we made our way onto the plane.

Was he a jerk? Absolutely! Was he right? Maybe. The truth is that Griffin and Jack don’t look sick most of the time. They certainly didn’t look sick on this particular day. They were smiling, laughing and acting like normal boys. After all, it was Dream Day! But make no mistake about it, these boys are sick.

I doubt the anxious passenger knew that Griffin was trying to keep from focusing on the chronic headache that haunts him 24/7. Most likely the man had not spent the last couple of years searching for answers to relentless pain, the kind of pain that causes Griffin to throw-up regularly and forced him to miss over 90 days of school. The man probably had no idea what it felt like to have Type 1 Diabetes or how hard that diagnosis could be on a 9 year-old boy. But even if he did, I’d be willing to bet that he wasn’t the 1 in a million that was also allergic to the insulin required to save his life. He couldn’t see the port in Griffin’s chest, the one doctors use to administer his pain medicine. He couldn’t see the knots on Jack’s arm where he injects his insulin 6-8 times a day. All he knew was that two boys that looked healthy on the outside were going to get to board the plane a few seconds before him.

At Dream On 3 we serve a population of kids living with “Invisible Illnesses.” These kids may not be terminal, but their lives have been altered in ways that we could never imagine. In most cases, they will have to live with their illness for the rest of their lives. Their activities are limited and they are not able to do life the way that other kids their age can. We have opened our programming up to these special kids because they too are deserving of some much needed hope and encouragement. Our job is to make sure that they know that despite the challenges of their condition, they can still live out their dreams!

So, are you wondering if their dreams came true? You better believe it!!! Fortunately for Jack and Griffin, the Seattle Seahawks also believed that they deserved the opportunity to live out their dreams! The culture of the Seahawks organization is one of compassion, service, love and community. Everyone from the front desk to the executive offices went out of their way to make these two boys feel like rockstars! They met their favorite players, coaches and of course…Blitz! They were showered with gifts and given exclusive VIP access to the training facility and stadium. Seattle rewarded these two fighters with an experience of a lifetime, perfect weather, a win over the Kansas City Chiefs and ultimately a dream come true!

Smiles and laughter do not mean that these kids are not in pain, it simply means that they are determined to not let their disease steal their joy.

They face insensitive encounters and doubters all the time. They are labeled “crazy” or “lazy” and are the unfortunate recipients of everyone’s unsolicited advice. You can never know for certain the challenges someone is living with by there appearance alone. We should all be slow to assume or cast judgement. We are a people that tend to believe only in what we can see. However, I assure you that some of the most real things in life are things that can’t be seen.

By Brandon Lindsey