By Linda Stein
The Daily Courier

Trains have enthralled Evan Johnson since he was a small boy.

On Saturday the 14-year-old Chino Valley teenager suffering from a life-threatening heart condition will fly with his family to Alaska to ride a train and see a glacier courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Arizona.

“I never thought it would happen,” Evan said at a wish-granting luncheon Sunday courtesy of the Applebee’s in Prescott. “I always wished it would.”

Frank Shankwitz, Make-A-Wish founder, said the organization, now in its 30th year, boasts 65 chapters in the U.S. and works to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses in 33 countries on five continents. The average wish costs about $7,500. More than 196,000 wishes have been granted in the U.S. and 225,000 were granted worldwide.

So far the organization granted 3,500 wishes to sick Arizona children, he said.

The Arizona Highway Patrol Association, whose members include both sworn officers and civilian employees of the DPS, adopted and funded Evan’s wish. In 1980 the DPS granted the wish of the first child, 7-year-old Chris Greicius, to be funded through Make-A-Wish. Greicius, who was being treated for leukemia, hoped to become a police officer. Before he passed away, Greicius received a custom police uniform, hat and badge, rode in a helicopter and became an honorary DPS officer.

“A wish is granted somewhere every 40 minutes,” Shankwitz said. Shankwitz has seen seriously ill children rally when their wishes come true.

“We call this the power of the wish,” Shankwitz said. Many times there are “rush wishes” because a doctor will say a child doesn’t have long to live. “So they get pumped up and come back and go into remission,” he said.

The Johnson family has spent a lot of time in hospitals over the years with Evan and his older sister, Rachel, 17. Both siblings have cardiomyopathy, a heart problem. The family previously traveled to Maui in Hawaii for Rachel’s wish.

“I think it’s a great organization,” said Scott Johnson, their dad. “It’s very special for the kids. We appreciate it very much.”

Susan Johnson, the children’s mother said, “It makes such a difference to go from living your life in the hospital, to just being normal. It makes a huge difference.”

“We try to give them a little reprieve from all their anxieties and worries,” said Myrta George, a wish granter. “It gives (the family) something they can all remember.”

George visited the Johnsons to verify that Evan’s wish was the Alaska train ride. She knew it was true when she saw all the train paraphernalia in his room.

Evan, a home-schooled eighth grader, tends to be quiet, his mother said. But he smiled brightly, his eyes twinkling as he learned about the trip to Alaska. George also handed him goodies from a new backpack, including a camera and model train and car.

The trip includes a train ride to Talkeetna, Alaska, a visit to the zoo in Anchorage, a tram ride and a tour of a gold mine, as well as the piece de resistance, the glacier.

“It’s a very special trip,” said George.

Evan agreed the trek will be “cool.” He likes trains, because of the “speed.” And about glaciers, “I like it when they look like a mountain and the river looks like a glacier.”

Article written by/or information provided by By Linda Stein, The Prescott Daily Courier

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