HERNANDO BEACH — If you ask Kristine D’Acunto, Malik Nance is just your normal 10-year-old who enjoys playing baseball and spending time with his siblings. Who would know just why the family had cause to celebrate a special occasion on May 23?
On Halloween in 2019, Malik was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. May 19 marked one year that Malik has been in remission after spending most of 2020 in and out of a Tampa hospital. During that time, COVID restrictions made it challenging for family members like Malik’s twin brother, Mekhi, to visit. Make-A-Wish Southern Florida was able to fulfill Malik’s wish for a customized golf cart, and surprised the young boy with a visit to his home where family members gathered in celebration.
“He had no clue, I told him it was a graduation party for my niece,” D’Acunto said. “It was amazing to see him get his wish. It’s been a long road. He went through a lot. Besides the leukemia and the treatment, COVID happened and put a strain on things.”
Malik’s initial wish was to take a trip to Hawaii, but like many others who had dreams of travel, Make-A-Wish had to postpone this request. After giving it some thought, Malik decided to change his wish. His customized street-legal golf cart was taken care of by Good Guys Golf Carts. It is a metallic black four-seater with a lift kit, upgraded rims and tires, red LED lighting throughout, and is Bluetooth-enabled. Malik could not have been more excited to find the golf cart waiting for him outside of his home.
“Make-A-Wish is awesome, they brought Malik’s wish sponsor and that was really neat,” D’Acunto said. “Malik stayed on that golf cart from the time they brought it to probably about 8 o’clock at night. As soon as he gets home from school in the afternoon, that’s all he wants to do.”
Make-A-Wish Southern Florida covers 22 counties and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The nonprofit receives no federal, state or United Way funding, but raises money through corporate sponsorships, special events, foundation grants, and individual donations. According to the organization, more than 70% of its $12M annual budget is allocated to wish granting.
Richard Kelly, chief officer for Make-A-Wish Southern Florida, said that during his years working for the foundation, seeing the joy on a child’s face after granting a wish makes the work that goes into it worthwhile.
Wishes range from five types of categories: “I wish to be” (something), “I wish to meet” (someone), “I wish to go” (somewhere), “I wish to have” (something), and “I wish to give” (something). The average cost of a wish in the Tampa region is $8,000.
“We hear all the time about how a wish changes the trajectory of a child’s life,” Kelly said. “The children themselves are so courageous and the parents and extended family who are dealing with it, too. These people are dealing with tragedy, something that’s very hard on their lives. You have an extra sense of motivation to want to help them, to do something nice for them. What we do isn’t just nice, it’s necessary. It changes their lives. There are medical reports that say children who receive wishes are much more likely to survive their illness or to deal with their illness in a better way than children who don’t get wishes.”
Anyone can get involved with the organization or learn how to refer a child with a critical illness by visiting www.sfla.wish.org.