Make-A-Wish Foundation grants a wish for learning

Published 1:37 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Typically when a child with a serious illness is given a chance to make a wish, the wish is for a trip to Disney World or to meet a favorite celebrity, but a Pearl River Community College student asked for a college education when he was 14.

On Tuesday, that wish was granted in part by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Hattiesburg Sunrise Rotary.

In 2003, 13 year-old Kirk Lee was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, a disease that affects the body’s lymph nodes.

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Kirk Lee first noticed something was wrong when he detected a knot on his neck. His grandmother Carolyn Lee said he was taken to the hospital and consequently diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. He was immediately transported to Jackson for surgery to remove tissue from his lungs and undergo chemotherapy. When neither of those treatments was successful, he was taken to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for stem cell transplant therapy.

That stem cell treatment put his illness into remission.

When his doctor referred him to the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the age of 14, he was asked what his one wish would be, and Kirk Lee asked for a college education.

South Mississippi Director of Make-A-Wish Shellie Moses said it’s rare for a person to ask for something so forward thinking. Lee’s decision to ask for a college education shows the integrity of his character, she said. PRCC President Dr. William Lewis said Lee’s request reinforced his confidence in the world’s younger generations.

“It’s really about him growing into a young man and his future,” Moses said.

On Tuesday, Lee was presented with a check for $6,000 from the foundation, enough to completely pay for his PRCC education. Lee is seeking a degree in the school’s two-year electrician program at the Poplarville campus. Lee, a Forrest County Agricultural High School graduate, said initially he planned to go to college to be a utility lineman. Later he decided he would rather be an electrician, possibly focusing on residential work.

Moses said there are about 100 people waiting on a list with the Mississippi Make-A-Wish Foundation, which is the most they’ve ever had. To qualify for a wish, the patient must be diagnosed with a life threatening illness, such as Lee’s. Each patient then must be referred to the organization by the physician on the case. Once a referral is made, a team of volunteers conducts interviews. Moses said Lee’s donation was funded by the Hattiesburg Sunrise Rotary.

Lee’s grandfather Bennie Lee said that during Kirk’s diagnosis and treatment he acted as though he wasn’t even ill.

“We’re real blessed to have him,” Carolyn Lee said. “ He’s been a role model for other cancer patients.”