A dream come true

Thirty-three Trailblaze Challenge hikers hit the trail before the sun came Saturday morning, hiking 21 miles of the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop as a fundraiser for Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

Thirty-three Trailblaze Challenge hikers hit the trail before the sun came Saturday morning, hiking 21 miles of the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop as a fundraiser for Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

Make a Wish Michigan grants wish for Wellston teen

MANISTEE — On a list of Thomas Brancheau’s wildest dreams is a “man cave.” A place he could call his own. A place where he could have a little independence.

Siblings Destiny and Thomas Brancheau are best friends. Thomas was granted a wish this spring by Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

Siblings Destiny and Thomas Brancheau are best friends. Thomas was granted a wish this spring by Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

Thomas, of Wellston, went to Trinity Lutheran School in Manistee and Insight School of Michigan online, graduating as salutatorian. He enjoys playing video games. He likes Pikachu.

However, this spring Thomas was going through a tough time and his doctors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital felt he needed something special, said his mother Tanya Brancheau.

“He’d just been told he could not have normal food anymore or normal liquids. That was a really hard day for him,” she said.

Thomas has had spinocerebellar ataxia since he was an infant. His muscles and nerves have gradually deteriorated.

“It makes everything — all the way down to swallowing — difficult for him now,” said his mom. “He has a hard time doing anything at this point.”

Tanya said the staff at the hospital had the idea to put Thomas’ name on the list for Make a Wish Michigan.

“He didn’t really know what that meant at the time. Then we got a call, and we explained it to him,” she said. “They told us to have him start thinking … nothing is too big.

In May, Thomas Branchea received his "man cave" from Jim’s Amish Structures, thanks to Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

In May, Thomas Branchea received his “man cave” from Jim’s Amish Structures, thanks to Make a Wish Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

‘What are your wildest dreams?’ He put a list together of his wildest dreams, and they took something off that list and made it happen. It was quite amazing.”

Within a week, Tanya said they received a call from Make a Wish Michigan saying they would be sending a package, a small gift, after asking a few questions about Thomas and what he liked to do.

“When they sent out the paperwork, they sent a little Pikachu stuffed animal. That was great because even a little gift like that to a kid who doesn’t get out much and meet a lot of people, getting something in the mail was awesome. Even if it was just a stuffed animal, it meant the world to him,” said Tayna. “That stuffed animal has a prized spot in his room now. … Even if they’d just done that, it was worth it.”

In May, Jim’s Amish Structures delivered a “man cave,” essentially a shed-like structure, to the Brancheau’s home. Tanya said Thomas was very excited when they pulled into the driveway and it was being dropped off.

Hikers line up in groups before departing on the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop on Saturday during the Trailblaze Challenge. (Courtesy photo)

Hikers line up in groups before departing on the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop on Saturday during the Trailblaze Challenge. (Courtesy photo)

“He was ecstatic. He was jumping for joy with his limited ability. He was clapping, which was really cute. He didn’t know how to express his joy enough,” she said. “He was clapping and putting his hands up. The kid lit up. It was adorable. It was worth it.”

Thomas has his game system set up in the space and plays with his friends online.

“He just wanted a little place where he could call his own but still be close for medical purposes. He was pretty excited about that,” said Tanya. “He asked for what he wanted, and they delivered.”

Make a Wish Michigan grants wishes to children battling critical illnesses. Thomas’ wish is just one of 40 granted in Manistee and Wexford counties.

Wish kid Janet wished to go to Alaska to see a moose; she returned in mid-July. (Courtesy photo)

Wish kid Janet wished to go to Alaska to see a moose; she returned in mid-July. (Courtesy photo)

“We are granting wishes to kids right in your backyard. These wishes are happening for children that could go to school with your kids or that you might go to church with or know in other ways,” said Sherri Collins, VP of Marketing and Brand Advancement for Make a Wish Michigan.

The experience gained through Make a Wish Michigan is about more than just a trip or item, she said.

“It really creates these memories that last a lifetime and have such an impact on our families,” said Collins. “Even just the child anticipating a wish before it even happens can create such a (positive experience) and empowerment for wish kids, and after the wish they have this experience that … it’s life changing for many of our families.”

Make a Wish Michigan has granted more than 9,500 wishes throughout the state of Michigan in its 35 year history. To help support those wishes, several fundraisers are held throughout the year.

On Saturday, 33 hikers from all over Michigan took part in the second Trailblaze Challenge, a 21-mile hike on the Manistee River Trail/North Country Trail loop.

Thomas Branchea, 18, has spinocerebellar ataxia. (Courtesy photo)

Thomas Branchea, 18, has spinocerebellar ataxia. (Courtesy photo)

“We are so excited (to have) this event and (raise) funds to grant more wishes in Michigan,” said Collins. As of Friday afternoon, $99,000 had been raised.

Many of the hikers had a special connection to Make a Wish Michigan, including a grandmother whose granddaughter received a play set; a parent whose child received a wish and a team called the Red Glasses Movement.

“This is a team that is hiking in honor of Audrey, who is not a wish kid but is the granddaughter of one of the hikers to just celebrate her memory and being a part of it. People come out for different reasons. They’re motivated to come out and hike and also just to help make wishes come true for other children,” said Collins.

She said organizers received great feedback from last year’s hikers about the trail.

“They thought it offered a lot of challenge, but also a lot of great views. They captured great pictures,” she said. “It was a good challenge too for them to complete that 21-mile hike, because for a lot of our hikers it is about challenging themselves physically in addition to the fundraising that they’re doing.”

For more information on Make a Wish or to make a donation, visit michigan.wish.org.

“When you have a child that goes through so much and suffers so much, there’s never enough you can do,” said Tanya. “So when they have a moment of just pure joy, that’s all a parent can ask for. It warms your heart.”

avatar

Posted by Michelle Graves

Michelle is the managing editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3106 or mgraves@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply