A 3-year-old Medford boy has been granted a trip to Disney World from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Gabe Johnson and his family will spend a week in Florida visiting Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.
“He’s my hero,” said his mother, Rachelle Johnson. “He’s so smart, reads people’s moods very well and is so compassionate, especially with his baby brother, Hayden, who suffers from cerebral palsy.”
Gabe has Still’s disease, a severe form of juvenile arthritis. A complication of this disease, macrophage activation syndrome, or MAS, nearly killed Gabe when he was 19 months old. MAS is an autoimmune illness and remains dormant for the most part. When Gabe becomes sick, the MAS flares up and can make any sickness fatal for him, according to his mother.
“A tiny, little cold could become life-threatening,” said Johnson. “It essentially poisons his body.”
Gabe, his mother, father, 10-year-old brother, 8-year-old sister and 2-year-old brother will leave for Florida Saturday, July 23. Gabe and his family will stay in the Give Kids the World village in Kissimmee, Fla.
Give Kids the World is an organization that allows children with debilitating diseases and their families to stay for a free week in Florida. The organization works with most wish-granting organizations such as the Make-A-Wish foundation. They house and feed the family for a week and provide them an array of free tickets for other theme parks. Make-A-Wish will cover Disney World and the family’s flights and the Give Kids the World Village will cover the rest.
“We’re definitely going to the Magic Kingdom,” said Johnson. “Gabe also wants to go to the Animal Kingdom, SeaWorld and Universal Studios.”
Gabe and his family will stay in villas on the village property. The village presents different themed events each night such as a winter-wonderland night when Santa gives out presents and a Halloween night when the kids can go trick-or-treating around the village, according to Johnson.
“It’s literally 79 acres of any kid’s dream world,” said Johnson.
On top of the joint pain from the Still’s disease, the MAS has damaged Gabe's heart, kidneys and liver. He takes a handful of daily medications and a biweekly injection at home. He has weekly doctors’ appointments and travels often to see specialists in Portland.
“There are some states that don’t have a juvenile rheumatologist,” said Johnson. “We’re lucky to have one in Oregon.”
Gabe is one of 300,000 affected in the United States, according to Johnson.
“I know that there are plenty of doctors out there doing research,” said Johnson. “There’s just not that many children who have the disease so there’s not enough research out there.”
Family, friends and supporters will host a send-off potluck for Gabe and his family from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, July 16 at the Union Creek Camp amphitheater. Supporters are welcome, but are asked to bring a dish and their own beverages.
“Our lives consist of driving to doctors’ appointments,” said Johnson. “For a week, he’ll be a normal, almost 4-year-old. It’s going to boost his spirit so much.”
To support Gabe and his medical expenses, visit gofundme.com/TeamGabe2014.