Is there anything better than taking a child facing his mortality and sweeping him into a moment of sheer joy and happiness?
Locally, at least 100 of the kids in the Make-A-Wish Foundation have dreamed of flying in a small plane, of feeling the wind on the wings, and the thrill of reaching new sights — snow, mountains, canyons, monkeys — that one would never see without this program and this plane.
Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, a professor at St. George’s University Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, and a volunteer pilot for Make-A-Wish International, has granted 100 of these wishes, treating children to new experiences throughout the Caribbean and South America.
“Completing 100 flights is great, and granting 100 wishes makes me want to do even more,” said Dr. Bidaisee. “As long as I am able to and those wishes exist, I will continue to share the joys and passions of aviation, especially with those for whom time may not be on their side.”
A cancer survivor himself, Dr. Bidaisee is not a stranger to intimations of mortality. In July 2015, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. His experience and recovery prompted him to ramp up his involvement in Make-A-Wish and consider how he could best serve cancer patients, especially children who are going through chemotherapy and treatment surgeries. Since February 2016 — post-cancer — Dr. Bidaisee has completed more than 50 percent of his flights.
“My life-changing events triggered my interest in this program because they reminded me of the fragility of life — you can be here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “I’ve found a purpose beyond my own personal interests, education, and career. I’ve found that it is always the best use of my time to do something for someone else, especially for those whose time is measured and precious.”
Reciting some of his most memorable flights, Dr. Bidaisee shared the story of a 13-year-old boy with a brain tumor whose wish was to fly. The boy had never been inside an aircraft before and didn’t care where they went; he just wanted to experience flying. Another wish Dr. Bidaisee was able to grant was that of an elderly woman with ovarian cancer who had never traveled outside of her homeland, Trinidad, but wanted to see snow. He flew her to Merida in Venezuela in the mountain peaks, which was the closest place in South America to find snow. She was able to feel, walk, and play in the snow, which until then she had only seen on television.
Unfortunately, many of those people on Dr. Bidaisee’s Make-A-Wish flights have since passed away. In fact, for some it was literally their last wish. One of the losses that hit him the hardest was a 4-year-old boy with leukemia whose wish was to see a waterfall in the Amazon. Dr. Bidaisee flew the boy to the Kaieteur waterfall in Guyana — the closest he could find that resembled an Amazonian waterfall. Three weeks after that magical experience, the boy passed away after going through another cycle of chemotherapy.
“It’s hard, but at the same time, I really appreciate the fact that I was able to share that experience with him and to make his wish come true,” said Dr. Bidaisee. “And that probably matters more than anything. My own passion for aviation pales in comparison to my experiences with these kids in Make-A-Wish. I feel very privileged and honored to give them these experiences.”
As a global network, on average Make-A-Wish® grants a wish, every 34 minutes to a child suffering with serious health issues. These wishes come in all shapes and sizes. Some are heartfelt or jaw-dropping—others funny or tear-jerkers.
“Make-A-Wish is actually the best purpose that I feel in my own life right now,” extolled Dr. Bidaisee. “It’s extremely fulfilling in life to match your passion with something that truly makes a difference and serves a greater purpose.”