Unused airline miles go long way for kids

| Monday, April 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The only thing Adam Snow would like better than catching his favorite bass or trout in the Allegheny River and Cowanshannock Creek would be snagging a giant halibut in Alaska.

After surviving and recovering from a liver transplant just 36 hours before doctors predicted he would die, Snow, 15, of Butler will get that chance. The Make-A-Wish Foundation started a campaign to help the dreams of seriously ill youths such as Snow take flight.

Throughout April, Make-A-Wish is encouraging people with unused air miles from Delta, US Airways and United to donate them to the foundation so it can provide airline tickets to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The Wishes in Flight program celebrates World Wish Day on April 29 in memory of the first Make-A-Wish recipient, Chris Greicius. In 1980, the foundation granted the 7-year-old boy's wish of being a police officer in Phoenix. He died of leukemia a couple of days later.

The Western Pennsylvania chapter grants 700 wishes a year, and 75 percent require air travel. The foundation estimates there are 14 trillion unused air miles in frequent-flier accounts around the world.

“Even if you don't have a lot (of miles) to donate, every little bit helps,” said Dana Antkowiak, spokeswoman for Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.

Snow, a freshman at Butler Intermediate High School, contracted an airborne virus that destroyed 90 percent of his liver and left him in a coma barely clinging to life last November. Two hours after doctors harvested a donor's liver, Snow was on the operating table.

Fully recovered, he, his parents and brother, Michael, will go halibut fishing in Alaska in August. Donated air miles provided for two of those tickets, Antkowiak said.

“I was thinking about places I always wanted to go, and Alaska popped up,” Snow said. “Alaska is one of those places you want to go at least once in your lifetime.”

Lisa Roberts and Frank Tirone remember the trips their sick children took.

Three years ago, doctors removed a cancerous tumor from the brain of Domenic Tirone, now 11, of West Homestead. After he recovered, Make-a-Wish granted his wish of seeing volcanoes in Hawaii.

“Because of everything we had gone through, me and my wife were devoting a lot of attention to him,” said Frank Tirone. “The other kids weren't getting the attention they deserved. That time together helped bring us back together as a family.”

Kylen Roberts, 6, of Greensburg has epilepsy that causes convulsions so severe that he has to wear a helmet. Make-A-Wish paid for his family to go to San Diego to see the zoo and Legoland. His mother, Lisa, 34, said God held off his seizures during the trip, and Kylen constantly begs her to go back.

“I got to pet a penguin,” he said. “They got short hair.”

Snow's mother, Linda, said she hopes people donate air miles to other families of seriously ill children.

“Your family goes through the scare, the fear, and this is one heck of a good break,” she said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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