During his seven-month stay at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital last year, 7-year-old Cole Siegel of Wilton said he became a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Superstar John Cena.
“I like him because he’s a really good wrestler,” said Cole, who spent those seven months in the hospital after being diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening immune system condition.
“When I was in the hospital, he kind of got me moving, and that’s pretty cool because I didn’t want to walk,” Cole said.
On Dec. 18, Cole got to meet the WWE superstar, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Connecticut, which has granted more than 2,300 wishes to children in Connecticut between the ages of 2 1/2 and 18 with life-threatening medical conditions since 1986.
Last spring, Cole said, he received a phone call from Make-A-Wish Connecticut and found out his wish of meeting Mr. Cena was going to come true.
“I felt really excited,” said Cole. “My whole family went with me to meet him.”
Make-A-Wish Connec-ticut flew Cole, his 11-year-old sister, Carter, his 10-year-old brother, Ryan, and his parents, Janet and Jeffrey, to Austin, Texas, to meet the professional wrestler.
“He was like the same guy he is on TV,” Cole said. “We talked about wrestling and stuff.”
During their 20-minute hangout, Cole asked Mr. Cena a bunch of questions, said Mrs. Siegel.
“He asked him how it felt to be in some of the wrestling moves, who his favorite wrestler in the WWE was,” said Mrs. Siegel, “how much he was home, and where he was going to spend Christmas.”
Mrs. Siegel said Make-A-Wish arranged for a car to pick the family up at the airport, provided a car for the family to use during their three-day stay in Austin, and arranged activities for them, such as going on a duck boat tour and attending a wrestling match featuring Mr. Cena.
Cole even got to share the television spotlight with his favorite WWE star during the wrestling match.
“John Cena ran out to the ring and he had forgotten to give Cole a towel when he met him earlier, so he looked around and found Cole — we were in the first row — and he ran over, out of the ring and gave Cole the towel and asked him if he was having a good time,” said Mrs. Siegel.
Mr. Cena wasn’t the only WWE star Cole and his family got to meet in Austin.
“I’m not quite sure they [Make-A-Wish] knew it was going to happen, but all of the wrestlers were staying at our hotel,” said Mrs. Siegel.
“So that was an added bonus, because the kids not only got to meet John Cena and spend time with him, but all of the wrestlers were very sweet and taking pictures and saying hello.”
Mrs. Siegel said the three-day trip to Austin was a nice break from the chaotic, stressful routines her family had developed since Cole became sick two years ago.
After five days of high fevers in 2011, Cole was taken to the hospital, where doctors monitored him and prepared to treat him for HLH, even though they weren’t positive HLH was the problem.
“HLH is just starting to become known, and because of that, it’s considered a rare disease. Oftentimes it will go undiagnosed, and it’s fatal if it’s undiagnosed,” explained Mrs. Siegel.
“Normally for HLH, if it’s diagnosed, it’s treated with chemotherapy and steroids to stop the flare, but Cole somehow got better on his own. Our question was, Is it going to happen again?”
Mrs. Siegel said a doctor in New York recommended that Cole be taken to Cincinnati to see HLH research specialist Dr. Lisa Filipovich, who was the one who ended up referring Cole to Make-A-Wish.
“Through genetic testing we found that Cole did indeed have HLH and he would — without a bone marrow transplant — get sick again and likely get sicker and not be able to recover on his own,” said Mrs. Siegel.
In April 2012, Cole got a bone marrow transplant, and his brother Ryan was his bone marrow donor.
“It didn’t really hurt,” Ryan said, adding that the worst part was having to sleep all day after the anesthesia.
“Ryan’s been a champ,” said Mrs. Siegel. “He did the bone marrow transplant and then Cole’s had to go for two boosts, so Ryan’s had to give quite a lot of blood to boost Cole a couple of times.”
Mrs. Siegel said being in Cincinnati with Cole for seven months while her other two children stayed in Wilton and her husband traveled back and forth was a big change for the family, but also made the trip to Austin extra special.
“We were so displaced and crazy for so long. It was very nice because we didn’t have to think about anything,” said Mrs. Siegel.
“Going through all this, we’re always thinking about something — what we have to do, what appointments we have to make — and Make-A-Wish stepped in and took over everything. It was nice to let go and enjoy it with the family.”