Instead of being excited for her 15th birthday party last February, Mayra was in a hospital bed after being diagnosed with aplastic anemia. In the Latino culture, a quinceanera is a coming-of-age birthday party for a 15-year-old. But just as her party was about to enter its final planning stages, Mayra's parents were forced to cancel the party and lose all deposits they had paid.
Nine months later, Mayra, whose last name was not released because of Make-A-Wish Foundation's policies, will be celebrating her quinceanera Nov. 21.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation is a nonprofit organization that grants wishes to children who have life-threatening medical conditions. A wish is granted and fully paid for by the Make-A-Wish Foundation and its sponsors.
United HealthCare joined forces with Make-A-Wish and has created a $4.5 million alliance — one of the largest in the nonprofit organization's 27-year history.
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"Under that sponsorship they have chosen to grant a wish per state," said Pat Greenway, CEO of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Kansas.
The nation's 66 chapters are eligible to receive wish-granting funds through the new program. Each wish costs an average of $6,000 to grant.
When offered the opportunity for a wish, Mayra immediately wanted a quinceanera. Harrington Health, a local United HealthCare provider, is taking care of Mayra's wish. This is the first quinceanera that has been granted through Make-A-Wish in Kansas.
"I have three kids myself and to see a child that has come through a difficult time is a special moment," said Bob Langhofer, vice president for employee benefit sales at Harrington Health.
On Thursday afternoon, members of the Harrington Health staff and Make-A-Wish Foundation came together for the first time to celebrate Mayra's wish with a small reception.
Mayra, and her mother, Carolina, were in attendance, along with one of the three volunteer wish granters from Make-A-Wish.
"I will be attending her quinceanera," said Colleen Mills, a wish granter. "I have learned a lot since I started this. A quinceanera is about as involved as a wedding."
Carolina said she never believed her daughter would have a chance to celebrate this important cultural tradition because of her illness.
"We had been planning it for a year, but everything was canceled when she needed medical treatment," Carolina said. "The party had to be put on hold. We lost all deposits."
The dress, an important part of the celebration, had already been purchased before Mayra had to cancel her party.
"I bought the dress for her even though I didn't think she would ever get to have a quinceanera," Carolina said. "I wanted a picture of her in her dress, and now we get to have it."
Mayra's quinceanera will consist of a church ceremony, dance, guests, gifts and wisdom from her mother. Mayra will be accompanied by seven boys and seven girls as her court.
The court will perform dances for the crowd, including a waltz, which Mayra quickly scurried out of the reception on Thursday to practice for.
"I have choreography practice for my waltz that I can't miss," Mayra said.
Mills said she looks forward to seeing the work in this project pay off when Mayra celebrates on Nov. 21.
"This is wish 15 for me," she said. "We started this one in June and we are making it happen next weekend."
Mayra and Carolina were also presented with a gift certificate for manicures, pedicures and massages at Healing Waters Spa before the big day.
"I never thought there were people in this world as nice as the ones I have met here," Carolina said.
Langhofer said making this wish come true for Mayra has been meaningful to him.
"Day in and day out, we deal with the claim side of things," Langhofer said. "But behind every claim there is a person and with this particular one we are able to make a difference."