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Make-A-Wish to sending Leesburg boy to Pro Bowl

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Ethan May, a 12-year-old boy from Leesburg, has always had an appreciation for football.

Ethan has also been battling cystic fibrosis since he was six months old. Last year, a wish request was sent into the Make-A-Wish Foundation for him to go to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii with the help of his physicians in Atlanta.

Now he'll get to see that wish come true.

The coordination for this effort was pulled of by two local wish granters -- Michele Bates and Misti Waller.

Ethan will have a going-away party Monday and leave later in the week with his parents and two brothers to travel to the Aloha State while the family's home is being looked after by a relative during their absence.

The May family is one of two from Georgia going to the game courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

"It is exciting we were able to grant this wish," Bates said. "(Ethan) had been on the wish list for a while, but his parents wanted to wait until he was old enough to understand (and remember it.)"

In the meantime, Ethan hasn't let the fact he has a life-threatening condition get him down.

"He's a real trooper about it," his mother, DeeAnna May, said. "He's a very active kid. He's in Boy Scouts and he swims for the Albany Area YMCA."

For as many activities as he is involved with, there are few things Ethan loves more than football.

"His favorite team is the (Atlanta) Falcons," May said. "He was torn on what wish to make -- to go to the Super Bowl or the Pro Bowl. He is so excited he will get to meet the coaches and the players.

"We are grateful for the outpouring of love and the donations that have been made. We are so thankful. It is very moving that people care. This would not have happened without them."

Cystic fibrosis is a condition that causes the body to overproduce mucus, impacting the respiratory and digestive systems.

"Some people tend to have more lung issues, others have more digestive issues," May said. "Digestive and sinuses are the biggest issues for Ethan.

"We do breathing therapy twice a day even if he's not coughing."

This is the third wish Bates has completed, and Waller's first.

"It has definitely been an eye-opening experience," Waller said. "This family has such a great attitude, and (the experience) made me feel that Make-A-Wish is such a wonderful foundation."

Waller has a child with development issues, which gives her something in common with the families impacted by the foundation.

"I've already experienced the hard times, but to see others with a good attitude and that they can do anything no matter what ... it gives me a new perspective," she said.

"Once I got going and saw how so many people are willing to help out (in granting a wish), it eased my nerves."

The family connected with Waller and Bates during the holidays and expected to have Ethan's wish fulfilled in January 2012 rather than this year.

"Ethan was so excited when Michele gave him his itinerary," his mother said.

After he returns home, it is May's hope Ethan will remember the effort that went into making his wish come true.

"The next time he is sitting in the hospital, I can remind him that people care about him," she said.

She also hopes that more children in Southwest Georgia will be able to benefit from the foundation's cause.

"There are so many kids out there who would like to make a wish," May said. "The more awareness we raise, the more wishes that can be granted. It is needed here."

Any child between the ages of 36 months and 18 years with a life-threatening medical condition and has not been granted a wish is eligible for Make-A-Wish. A group of volunteers meets with a child and his or her family to determine the child's wish and works to make it come true.

"We grant wishes to children who are battling life-threatening medical conditions in order to give them hope, strength and joy at a time when they need it most," said Kathy Hammond, CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation's Georgia and Alabama chapter, in a statement e-mailed to The Herald. "We have countless testimonials from wish families who tell us that their child was able to focus on their upcoming wish which helped them get through their difficult symptoms and treatments. In some cases families believe that their child's wish enabled them to endure and conquer their illness.

"In a child's eye, a wish is a very powerful thing. That is why we are so committed to our mission."

The average cost for granting a wish in the Georgia and Alabama chapter is $6,700, with the funding coming from grants as well as individual and corporate donations. Approximately 80 percent of the chapter's funds are used for wish-granting.

The foundation's Georgia and Alabama chapter has more than 600 children on its waiting list and is on the verge of granting its 5,000th wish. On average, wishes are granted every 40 minutes.