Wishes fulfilled at Hill's Pilot For A Day
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Ryan Thomas has spent a large portion of his life dealing with things most kids his age don't even understand.
The 8-year-old Clearfield resident was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare disease where cancer cells are found in the bone or in soft tissue, in November of 2012.
Since his diagnosis he's gone to countless doctor appointments, seen the inside of too many hospital rooms and endured hours and hours of chemotherapy treatment.
Many of those same circumstances have surrounded the young life of London Bowman, a 6-year-old Roy resident with Lissencephaly, a rare brain disorder that can cause developmental delays, respiratory problems, seizures, and muscle spasticity.
But Friday, the pair were able to feel like normal kids for a few hours.
Ryan and London were among nine children who spent the day with the 388th Fighter Wing as part of the Pilot For A Day program, a joint effort between the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Hill Air Force Base.
The kids, who are scattered all along the Wasatch Front and all have some kind of life-threatening medical condition, joined 421st Fighter Squadron members for breakfast, received personal flight suits, name tapes and patches.
The children also hopped into the cockpit of an F-16, worked the jet's instruments F-16 flight simulator, watched military police dogs do their work and received an Explosive Ordnance Disposal demonstration.
"It's nice to see him be able to act like a kid again," said Crystal Thomas, Ryan's mother. "It's been a tough road. Countless nights in the hospital, countless sleepless nights where you just worry. But things like this are a great distraction where we can have fun and think about something else."
Crystal Thomas said her son nearly died last Mother's Day after he went into shock.
"But ever since then, he's been doing great," she said. "Shortly after that, he was declared N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) and he's been in remission ever since. We pray he stays that way."
London's mother, Danielle Bowman, said the Make-A-Wish Foundation has been a crucial partner in helping her family battle Lissencephaly.
"They gave us a family trip to Disney World," she said. "It was great because we really don't know how much time we have with London. We got to have this unbelievable trip that we wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise."
Jenny Hortin, volunteer manager with Make-A-Wish Utah, said many of the children at Hill have already had their wishes fulfilled, but the Pilot For A Day program provides an ancillary activity that seems to thrill the children who participate in it.
"A lot of these kids see the jets flying over their homes, but they've never seen one up close before," she said. "It such a unique experience for them to come out here and see how the Air Force operates. They love it."
Lt. Col. Tom Wolfe, commander of the 388th Operations Support Squadron, said one of the main tenets of the Air Force is to protect those who can't protect themselves. He said the Make-A-Wish kids served as a true reminder of that philosophy.
"These kids have overcome so much and a lot of them are still overcoming some incredible challenges," he said. "They really are an inspiration to us. These kids are the reason we do what we do."
Hill covers the cost of the event for all of the Wish kids and their families.
The day culminated with a ceremony during which the children received a set of pilot wings from Col. Lance Landrum, commander of the 388th.