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100 dreams and still counting

June 25, 2003|by BOB MAGINNIS

The Washington County chapter of Dream Come True recently granted its 100th wish. For the seriously ill children the group serves, the gift doesn't make everything all better. But based on one family's story, it can be as welcome as a sunny day after a long gray rainy season.

Mark Schneider is 24 now, but he still feels the effects of what happened that day 13 years ago at Maugansville Elementary School. It happened shortly before lunch. Teachers told his parents Mark hollered about a pain in his head, grabbed his eye and then collapsed.

"The school called me and I was there in less than two minutes and we were off to the hospital," said his mother, Carolyn Schneider.

Doctors found that something called an arterial venous malformation had begun to hemorrhage at Mark's brain stem. His mother said they gave him only a slight chance of surviving.

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"At Washington County they said he had a 2 percent chance of survival and that if he did survive he would be a vegetable," she said.

But survive he did, and after five weeks in a coma at Washington County Hospital, he was transferred to the University Rehabilitation center in Elizabethtown, Pa., where he remained from April until August.

Despite what doctors initially thought, Mrs. Schneider said that Mark came out of the coma with his thought process unimpaired. That meant, among other things, that it was easier to participate in speech and occupational therapy.

He's had five surgeries since then and still shows the after-effects of his trauma on the right side of his face and the left side of his body. During our interview he speaks slowly as he sits in his wheelchair, although his parents say that he doesn't need a special lift to get in and out of the a car.

He has physical limitations, but his resolve has kept him moving forward. Determined to walk across the stage to get his diploma at North Hagerstown High School, he concentrated on therapy that let him do so using a wheeled walker.

That same year he earned his Eagle Scout award, stripping and repainting doors and walls at one of the entryways of the Otterbein Methodist Church for his community service project.

Now he attends Hagerstown Community College, where he takes two classes each semester.

But when I ask him what career he'd like to pursue, he says he's not really sure.

"That's our big question. When he was in the fifth grade he was going to build me a house," Mrs. Schneider said.

Perhaps he could be an architect or a designer, I suggest.

"We're trying to get him interested in something involved with computers," she said.

To say that Mark's trauma has been an inspiration to his family sounds strange, but Mrs. Schneider said that after rehabilitation center staffers told her son Scott how well he worked with his brother, he decided to become a physical therapist.

Her other son, Eric, is studying to become a physician's assistant. And Mrs. Schneider has become a board member of Dream Come True.

The group, founded in 1986 by Nick and Tina Giannaris and Joe Tischer, is dedicated to granting wishes to seriously ill children or those with life-threatening diseases.

When a child is referred to the group, Mrs. Schneider said Dream Come True asks for the medical diagnosis, which is then reviewed by Arleta Martin, a registered nurse, and Dr. Edward Ditto.

After they provide that information to the board, Gloria and Paul Weisz go into action, said Larry Messer, Dream Come True's board president.

"They sit down with the family and talk about what they want to do, and make sure it gets fulfilled," Messer said.

Mrs. Schneider said that for most children, a trip to Disney World is at the top of the list, although some ask for a computer or to meet a celebrity like Cal Ripken Jr.

Mark Schneider chose Disney World, in part because he could go fishing in some of the lakes near the park.

"I felt strange about taking the dream at the time," said Mark's mother.

But the family had been separated so much during Mark's rehabilitation that they decided they needed the time together, she said.

"You're under such stress. To have that vacation with your immediate family was such a relief," she said.

Not every Dream Come True recipient survives. As Mrs. Schneider told me, the group was able to set up a session with Michael Jordan for one little girl, only to have her pass away before the meeting took place.

The organization gets its funding from a variety of sources, including corporations and shows run by the Classic Car Group for Kids. If you'd like to learn more, visit the Web site at dctrue.org.

Donations can be sent to Dream Come True, Inc., 1201 Potomac Ave., Hagerstown, MD, 21742.

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