Joined by his family, a few close friends, and two representatives of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Massachusetts and Rhode Island (MAWF-MRI) at the Ocean View Restaurant in Oak Bluffs Saturday, 13-year-old Gabriel Nascimento was all smiles and in good spirits as he spoke excitedly about his upcoming trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
“I had a lot of stuff that I wanted to do for the wish,” Gabriel told The Times. “But I really wanted to do something where I could be with my family. Also, I’m really excited about the waterpark and the safari adventure.”
At first glance, it is not obvious that just a couple of months ago, Gabriel, an eighth grader at the Tisbury School, was undergoing regular chemotherapy treatment.
“I’m feeling much better,” Gabriel said. “When I was in treatment, I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. Now I can.”
In 2012, Gabriel was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. It was found in lymph nodes in his neck, which grew to about the size of a ping-pong ball.
“He’s a tough kid,” his father, Joey Nascimento, told The Times. “It’s an experience that I don’t think any parent should have to go through. There are no words to explain what your feelings are with this type of cancer.”
For seven months, Gabriel underwent chemotherapy treatment. In November, he received good news.
“When we went there and they told us he was clean, he just started screaming,” Mr. Nascimento said. “I just got as light as a feather; all of the pressure, everything just goes. You have the whole world in front of you again.”
Mr. Nascimento said Gabriel will continue getting regular checkups to make sure the cancer remains at bay. But for now, the family is looking forward to the future and their visit to one of the happiest places on earth.
On February 17, MAWF-MRI will send the teen and his family to Disney World for a week.
“Disney has been a fantastic partner of ours,” said MAWF-MRI media relations manager Jordan Salvatoriello. “They really do a great job of making every child feel like a prince or princess.”
Make-A-Wish America began in 1980 by granting the wish of 7-year-old Chris Greicius, who wanted to be a policeman for a day, before he died of leukemia. The national organization now grants 14,000 (and rising) wishes a year to children between ages 2½ and 18. MAWF-MRI was started in 1987 as a local chapter, but operates as a separate 501(c)(3) non-profit.
After a doctor confirms that the child has a life-threatening disease, the youngster makes a wish and staff members handle the logistics of making it come true. Ms. Salvatoriello said each child can choose any wish they want.
“We’re focused on the impact of the wish,” Ms. Salvatoriello said. “Family is certainly impacted by the child’s illness as well, so we want to strengthen families and try to make it an all-inclusive experience.”
Planning for the celebratory lunch began when Ocean View waitress Ali Smith heard what Gabriel had been through and decided to do whatever she could for him and his family.
“Once I heard about Gabriel and everything he’s gone through, I just knew I had to do something,” Ms. Smith told The Times. “I wish I could do more.”
In addition to helping coordinate the lunch, Ms. Smith and a few members of the Ocean View wait staff pitched in to buy Gabriel a Flamengo soccer jersey, because they heard it was his favorite team. Ms. Smith said the owners of the Ocean View, Peggy and Ron Jackson, donated all of the food for Gabriel’s send-off lunch.
“I’ve lived here three years, and it just gets better and better,” Ms. Smith told The Times. “People don’t know what a caring community this is and how everybody is so close-knit, especially in the winter.”
In addition to the love and support of friends both on and off Island, many people pitched in to help Gabriel and his family in their time of need.
Angel Flight, a non-profit organization serving patients in need of transportation, provided Gabriel and his family with several round-trip flights to Boston.
The Nascimento family has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for 12 years. Mr. Nascimento, who works for the Steamship Authority (SSA) part-time, said the family has traveled between their native Brazil and the Island since Gabriel was nine years old. The Nascimentos live in Vineyard Haven in the winter and West Tisbury in the summer. Gisele, Gabriel’s mom, was working as a house-cleaner before Gabriel got sick, but now takes care of him full-time. His sister, Emanuel, 9, is also a Tisbury School student.
The SSA provided the family with a medical travel rate while Gabriel was undergoing treatment, Mr. Nascimento said.
“I don’t know how I could have done it without the help of the community,” Mr. Nascimento said. “I don’t think I could do it, plus all of the expenses we had. But everyone was extending their hand to us. It was really something.”
For more information on the Make a Wish Foundation go to massri.wish.org or call 617-367-9474.