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Make-A-Wish trip with Ernst Spaans

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Freek Cox, 24-02-2012

Ernst’s Great Canadian Hockey & Nature Wish

As a volunteer of Make A Wish Nederland (the Dutch branch of the Make A Wish Foundation) for more than ten years, I have been asked by Canada2Leaf to write columns about my adventures with/activities for the Foundation.

To start it off, I have chosen for a wishchild I helped at the end of 2008, as my love for Canada was strengthened by this wish as well. For privacy reasons I can’t use the real name of the boy, so let’s call him Eric and imagine he is 17 years old and very seriously ill, so ill that we had to do the intake interview at the hospital where he was staying for treatment. At the beginning of October 2008 Eric was reported to us by one of the doctors of the hospital. The boy thought he would have to wait months to be approved and for it to become his turn, but two weeks later my colleague Frans and I visited him at the hospital.

As part of the intake interview we asked the boy a lot of things, like: his hobbies, sports, favorite food, color, clothes, family, etc. until we eventually asked for his dearest wish and one or two more wishes, in case number one can’t be fulfilled. Eric was not sure what to wish for until we told him to let his imagination go wild and think out of the box. His primary wish was to see his favorite hockey team (being the Toronto Maple Leafs) play live in the NHL. He also wanted to see Grizzly bears in the wild, but already said himself that they were living in a different part of Canada, so that would be hard to combine. After rounding up the intake, we went home and set things in motion at the foundation.

Again we managed to surprise Eric with our speed. How? We found the ideal way to combine his two primary wishes and that had to be done quickly. On the 15th of November the NHL match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks was scheduled in Rogers Arena in Vancouver. It would be ideal to fly Eric and his family out there, ‘cause then he could combine seeing the Maple Leafs with visiting the Grizzlies in British Columbia. So on the 3rd of November Eric was told, straight out of the hospital, that he would leave for Canada on the 12th of November and so he did, together with his best buddy, his dad and his dad’s girlfriend. For the rest of this column I have taken the liberty to translate the report Eric wrote about his trip:

“Everything, but really down to the very last single detail, was arranged, which came apparent on the day of departure. A taxi came to pick us up at home and the two volunteers that had interviewed me were also there to wish me a safe and enjoyable trip, I really liked that. When we arrived at Schiphol Airport, there was a little airport guy standing there with a sign saying: Make-A-Wish, My name! Absolutely awesome of course! Check-in and through customs without waiting, even though there was a long line, we got privilege everywhere, wonderful, also to see the looks of the other people, wondering why we could go first.
Once through customs, we got to race through the entire airport on an airport cart. Totally cool. Before the official boarding had started, we were allowed to pre-board, the crew of the plane knew we were with Make-A-Wish and were extremely nice to us. When we were flying above Greenland, the captain invited me into the cockpit to watch the icecaps; an amazing view, unbelievable!

At Vancouver airport another airport caddy was waiting for us en brought us to the rental car that had been reserved for us. They gave me a welcome bag with some little presents and the program for the rest of the trip. We were taken to an extremely luxurious hotel in downtown Vancouver, where our suitcases were carried and the doors were opened for us all the time, what a service, awesome!

Because the weather was very good the next day, we decided to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge first. We got free tickets for it and had to report at the entrance where they knew who we were and even gave me a present: a cap with the name of the bridge, so nice!
We chilled the rest of the day as we were still a bit tired after the long trip yesterday.

Next day: today it was arranged that we could see the Grizzly bears in an artificial habitat, but not only could we see them, I was allowed to FEED them as well, superb! We had to take the cable car up to Grouse-mountain; Make A Wish had arranged that for us. Which was great cause none of us could do the hiking trail up there (this column writer did the trail in 2010 and knows from experience how hard it is to get up there). Once on top with the car, we walked to the bears, 2 kinds Coola & Grinder, man they were huge and so cute. We had an appointment at 10:00 am with the wildlife manager. He explained to us about the bears and why they were here. Then I was allowed to feed them apples with honey and then we were allowed to go inside and the rest of the audience were told to stay outside as this was a ”private” affaire, outstanding, all especially for me, wauwie…… !!!!!!!
He lured the bears inside with a little whistle, after which I was allowed to feed them the remaining honey, they were so close to me, super cool……they were so huge, every time I held the spoon up high, the bear flew into the fence, the enormous body and huge claws….. really beautiful to be able to get so close to them!

Saturday would be D-Day, the day of the hockey. Here also we received free tickets, awesome. I was looking forward to it so much as I was sure it would become a brilliant match between the two Canadian rivals! At 16:00 pm the match was scheduled to start so we already went to Rogers Arena at 15:00 pm to taste the atmosphere. Absolutely awesome, even our soccer classic Ajax-Feyenoord is nothing compared to this!
While warm up of the teams had started, I was approached by a lady asking whether I was Mr. so and so from the Netherlands. She told me she worked for the Toronto Maple Leafs and handed me a goodie bag, filled with all kinds of Maple Leafs fan stuff and a signed letter, addressed to me by the President of the Toronto Maple Leafs, absolutely wonderful. The letter stated that the entire team of the Toronto Maple Leafs was supporting me in my fight against the cancer and that they were glad and proud I had come all the way from the Netherlands to support them in this difficult away game. I was deeply touched by the letter and gifts. The match was super cool! Unfortunately for me, Vancouver won the match, which of course was great for the atmosphere in the arena. This was definitely the most amazing day of my life!

On Sunday the weather was less good, so this was the ideal day to use the last free tickets we had received from Make A Wish and go to the Vancouver Aquarium! An absolutely amazing aquarium filled with so many different kinds of fish and shows of dolphins and other sea animals. This day was also perfectly arranged by Make A Wish.

Make-a-wish had given us, in our itinerary a number of options for things to do during our stay in the immediate surroundings of the place we were staying. Due to the wonderful weather, we had finished most of those fairly quickly. The one thing that remained was a tour by car along the coast and driving on curvy roads through the mountains on our way to Whistler Mountain, 1.5 hours’ drive from us. But it was not just a 1.5 hour sit-still drive, but a voyage with amazing views that forced you to stop and take a good look every time to see beautiful hillsides or waterfalls. All in all this was a great day too and on the way back the sunset was simply breathtaking! I took an incredible amount of pictures that day.

On our last full day in Canada we had to go hunt for souvenirs of course!
I really wanted a sweater of the upcoming 2010 Winter Games and we managed to find me one! Very pleased with that one! We also went to a 3D cinema and BC-Place (stadium), which is a huge sports museum, where you can not only see a lot of things but also do a lot of things yourself, absolutely marvelous experience!!! We also had a nice hike through Vancouver city. In the evening we went out for a lovely goodbye dinner and packed our bags afterwards. This would enable us to do some more sightseeing the next day before leaving to the airport.

Wednesday, the day of our departure, we decided to use it to the fullest and drive to the coast. Once again the weather was great and therefore we could enjoy the takeoff and landing of seaplanes in the sunlight! Then we went to “Stanley Park”, walked around there and saw the totem poles, really funny things.
In the afternoon we picked up the suitcases at the hotel, drove to the airport, handed in the rental, spend our last Canadian dollars and patiently awaited our departure! Thank God the airport is very entertaining; there is enough for people to do and to see. At 17:30 pm we were allowed to enter the plane and gave our Make A Wish letter to the Dutch crew of our KLM flight. This time as well they were very nice to us and thanks to the sleeping pill that I had received. I was able to sleep like a rose on the plane. Right before landing, the purser invites me to witness the landing of the plane from the cockpit. I gladly accepted and was lead to the 4th seat in the cockpit, from which I could follow everything via headphones as well. Truly superb! Once we had landed, we had to wait for a little while, as the crew pulled out one more surprise. They had comprised a collage of all the things we had seen in Canada. So nice and quickly done by the crew, two thumbs up! When we were about to leave the plane, a volunteer of Make A Wish surprised us at the exit with a welcome home bouquet of flowers. We finished the trip with a group photo with the entire crew of the plane! As everyone passed through customs swiftly, we were able to leave the airport without any trouble. The cab was already waiting for us outside and took us straight home…
What an absolutely amazing week, everything was organized perfectly and everybody knew about my arrival, a week living like a true VIP, just wonderful and superb, everybody that contributed, thank you very much for all your help!!!"

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