Girl gives Make-A-Wish wish to KC-area food bank

Julie Brock-Garcia knows wishes come true.

So when she was asked by the Make-A-Wish Foundation what her heart's desire was, she told them: to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Not Arnold the governor. Or Arnold Strong aka Mr. Universe. But Arnold the actor in "Terminator."

A very polite answer came from his office: He was too busy just then keeping on the lights of his state.

Julie only shrugged at his response. The Kansas City, Kan., tween had endured much harsher life tests.

A year and half earlier, she went from healthy to near death overnight. Doctors said her heart and lungs were shutting down. Idiopathic cardiopulmonary hypertension. Julie's parents were told that she needed heart and lung transplants. Otherwise, she had maybe two weeks.

"I cussed at God. Yelled at him," remembered her father, Peter Garcia Sr., an Army and Marine Corps veteran with two Iraq deployments. "It made me wonder if there was a God."

Pam Garcia, her mother, cried and prayed. She remembered looking out the window. Two clouds formed a cross. Beneath was a double rainbow. She saw it as a sign.

The family prayed. Their friends prayed. Julie's classmates at St. Agnes Catholic Grade School in Roeland Park prayed. They held a fundraiser to send her to Lourdes, France, for a miracle. People brought food and toys, cards and banners. Others did the family's laundry and cleaned their house.

Everyone wanted the Garcias to know how much they were loved.

"It was a whole lot of angels caring for us. We felt such love and people kept on loving us when we were at our ultimate low," said Pam Garcia.

Doctors adjusted and tried various drug combinations for Julie. One worked. Although it wasn't a cure, it slowed the disease. After months of living in the hospital, Julie was able to move back home.

In May 2008, the family went to Lourdes. Wishes are good, but prayer is Pam Garcia's rock. She wasn't expecting a miracle overnight. But she knows something special happened to Julie.

"Instead of healing her heart," she said, "he opened it."

Julie came home, healthy enough to not need the oxygen tank or wheelchair. But it was her eyes that had really changed: She was noticing things that most children don't.

Poverty. Homelessness. Hunger.

And then one evening, a red stoplight changed everything.

A homeless man was holding a sign: "Hungry. Need food."

Both Julie and her younger brother, Peter Jr., begged their mother to give him the chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies they had just bought. They watched as he ate, so grateful, so happy.

It was 15 seconds that seeped deep into Julie's soul.

A few weeks later, the phone at the Make-A-Wish foundation rang. Julie wanted to change her wish, said Pam Garcia. Could the wish be a donation to a food pantry? And could they wait until her daddy came back from Iraq so he could be there, too?

It stunned the foundation. No child had ever asked for that kind of wish.

They found two food pantries near the place where the children saw the homeless man. But only one was called Guardian Angels.

"I see it as another sign," Pam Garcia said.

It was also the same parish that Peter Garcia attended as a little boy.

On Saturday, the Make-A-Wish foundation, accompanied by the Garcia family, gave a check for $5,000 to the food pantry that serves 45 families in the 64111 ZIP code area.

The food pantry director, Vickie Lopez, knew Peter Sr. when he was a child. When she was told a few months ago that this donation was coming, she cried. She cried again when she learned who was doing the giving.

"The entire family is very special," she said. "They will be rewarded for this."

On Saturday, Julie was: Her first wish is also coming true.

Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote her, in a letter read by Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser: "When I heard your story, I was absolutely blown away." Schwarzenegger wrote that she was inspirational to him, an example of courage and generosity and the power of giving back.

He invited her to travel to California to meet him. Maybe to light the state Christmas tree.

Julie's health is OK. She turned 13 in September. Last week, she felt chest pains. But her doctors adjusted her medication because she's growing.

Julie believes in wishes.

Her mom believes in prayer more than ever.

And Peter Sr. is still learning about both.

"All I want is for my daughter to outlive me. Maybe with all of this he's trying to tell me something."