Harrison Township boy’s wishes come true

Make-A-Wish funds family trip to Legoland, San Diego Zoo

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published November 9, 2017

 Zach DeKeyser proudly holds up the Lego version of himself created at Legoland. Zach was granted a trip to the park through Make-A-Wish Michigan.

Zach DeKeyser proudly holds up the Lego version of himself created at Legoland. Zach was granted a trip to the park through Make-A-Wish Michigan.

Photo provided by Kristen DeKeyser

HARRISON TOWNSHIP — In October 2015, while many kids his age were deciding what they wanted to be for Halloween and looking forward to trick-or-treating, 4-year-old Zach DeKeyser was experiencing health setbacks that kept him from enjoying these memorable times.

His mother, Kristen DeKeyser, said her young son had at that time started to experience severe ear infections that put him in the hospital.

“Zach’s ear infections wouldn’t seem to go away, and we started to get concerned,” according to Kristen, of Harrison Township. “After multiple trips to the emergency room and to the pediatrician with no luck, my husband and I finally decided to take him to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.”

That trip would change the DeKeyser family’s lives.

Kristen said that a week after Zach had been discharged from the hospital, they received a phone call from the doctor stating that the results of Zach’s bloodwork were “extremely concerning,” and she wanted to meet with the family immediately.

“Two days later, we were in her office having more bloodwork done; it was the day we were told that our son may have leukemia,” Kristen said. “It was the day our life would change as we knew it.

“As the word ‘leukemia’ came out of the doctor’s mouth, my ears started ringing and it got hard to breathe,” Kristen said. “It’s difficult to put into exact words what that moment felt like, but it’s safe to say my husband and I were totally devastated. We cried; we begged God to make Zach better; we got angry; we wondered what we did wrong. We just wanted it all to not be true.”

Zach then went through another battery of tests, beginning with a bone marrow test. Luckily, that test came back negative, which meant they could rule out leukemia. But this left everyone with more questions than answers, so more tests were conducted.

Kristen said that it was in December 2016 when the family finally got some answers.

“It had been over a year of uncertainty, filled with hospital trips, blood draws and platelet transfusions, and it felt relieving to finally have a diagnosis: an autoimmune disease,” she said.

Kristen said the family had experienced so many bad days during the year that it was hard to stay positive and hopeful.

“I was trying as hard as I could, but deep down I was so scared for my son,” she said.

Kristen found help in coping through an autoimmune support group she found on Facebook.

“One day I was scrolling through and noticed a woman, who has a son with a similar condition to Zach, had posted about him being approved for Make-A-Wish,” she said. “I was intrigued, so I asked her about it and she told me to apply, so we did.”

She said that once they submitted an application, they were introduced to Make-A-Wish Michigan volunteers Mark and Jon, who helped to plan Zach’s wish during this past summer.

“Mark and Jon were one of the best parts about our Make-A-Wish experience,” Kristen said. “They listened to me vent when Zach was sick and celebrate when we would get a good count from the doctor. They helped my family through the whole process and were there to cheer up Zach in the months leading up to his wish.”

Zach wished to go to Legoland and visit the San Diego Zoo in California, where he met his favorite animal up close: an elephant.

“He has always loved playing with Legos and is very passionate about animals,” Kristen said. “When he was asked what his one wish would be, it was pretty easy for him to decide.”

The family, including Kristen’s son Troy, also visited Seaworld, where Zach got a private visit with another of his favorite animals: a dolphin.

Zach also got a behind-the-scenes tour of Miniland USA at Legoland. A Lego version of Zach was created and then permanently placed in one of the cityscapes.

It was a much-needed and event-filled holiday for the DeKeyser family, and luckily Zach was healthy the entire trip, but within weeks of their return home to Macomb County, he got sick again and was hospitalized.

Before, Zach was on a strong steroid, and today, the first-grader continues on low-dose chemotherapy treatment, which weakens his immune system. This also means being careful when at school at Yacks Elementary in L’Anse Creuse Public Schools, because he cannot be around too many unvaccinated children.

“I absolutely love this school district. Everyone at the school has been wonderful,” she said, adding that any small infection can run rampant in Zach’s body. “The staff, the teachers — they’re extremely concerned about Zach, and they’re amazing with us.”

The family also makes annual trips to the Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorder Center. Kristen said her job allows her to work remotely when either in Boston or when at the hospital with Zach. Her husband, Brandon, also works full time.

This Halloween, Zach, now 6, dressed as Captain America and was able to go trick-or-treating, but fell ill that night.

“He was so happy and had so much fun,” Kristen said. “Then he woke up at midnight with a high fever and couldn’t stop throwing up, so we took (him to the) hospital.”

There Zach stayed until late on Nov. 3, the day he was scheduled to ride along with Santa Claus during a fireworks show and mini parade in Troy.

Zach missed the event because he was too sick, Kristen said, and he was heartbroken when he found out he had been scheduled to meet Santa: a surprise perk of the event.

The family had planned to attend because the event also kicks off Macy’s 10th annual Believe Campaign for Make-A-Wish.

From Nov. 3 through Dec. 24, “Believers” of all ages can bring their stamped letters to Santa to their local Macy’s store or send a letter by visiting macys.com/believe. For each letter received, Macy’s will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million, to help grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions like Zach’s.

Christy Schulte, with Make-A-Wish Michigan, said that since the campaign launched 10 years ago, Macy’s and Believers have raised more than $15 million for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“There were so many people who came and helped kick off the holiday season,” said Schulte. “It was a flurry of activity throughout the day.”

She said it’s a good feeling making wishes come true for children like Zach.

“He’s a spunky little kid who wished to go to Legoland and see up-close animals he loves,” she said. “He thought that was really cool.”

Kristen said the experience will remain with her son forever.

“Make-A-Wish Michigan gave us an escape when we so desperately needed it,” she said. “They gave us a renewed sense of hope and some amazing memories that will last a lifetime. Seeing how happy the trip made my son helped us all forget everything we have been through for a moment, and that’s something I cannot thank Make-A-Wish for enough.”