9-year-old battling critical illness surprised with free trip to Hawaii

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
9-year-old boy battling critical illness surprised with Hawaii trip
Anthony Carlo has more on the special wish granted for a 9-year-old battling a critical illness.

MANALAPAN, New Jersey (WABC) -- A 9-year-old boy courageously battling a critical illness was surprised with an amazing vacation to Hawaii with his family.

Leam Acatecatl loves turtles and has always wanted to see them for himself in Hawaii.

He said he also wished to snorkel, zipline, hike, and participate in all the exciting nature activities the tropical islands offer.

"10 out of 10 I was really happy, my first time going to Hawaii, I really wanted to go, one of my dreams too," Leam said.

Leam's parents' dream is for him to get better. When he was just 5, he was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma -- a rare malignant cancer that develops in the bone or soft tissue.

"You never think it's going to be you or your child," his mom Sina Snoeu said.

Leam's childhood has been hampered with surgeries and doctor's visits - but he's learned to live with them.

"It's not difficult anymore, I'm used to it," he said.

Leam's wish is being granted in partnership with The Learning Experience and is the first official wish to be granted as part of the 2023 "Let's Grant Wishes" Campaign, benefiting Make-A-Wish.

Leam's surprise celebration took place at The Learning Experience of Manalapan.

It is full circle moment for the owner of The Learning Experience in Manalapan. Her 14-year-old son Bryce was also a "wish kid." And his dream came true too.

He got to meet the Mets in 2019. Bryce passed away from congenital heart disease just a couple years later. His mom now fundraises to make wishes come true for children like Leam.

"My advice to the wish family was to just take your wish and enjoy it and don't think about hospitals, don't think about doctors, just think about your family and live in the moment because you don't ever know how many moments you have," said Karen Rosen.

It's a moment for Leam that will last forever.

While with his family in Hawaii, he'll get to go on an epic turtle tour adventure with breathtaking views and a chance to meet the majestic Honu (Sea Turtles), while jumping into the waters on the North Shore. His family will also experience a submarine tour within view of the iconic Leahi state monument which is frequented by green sea turtles, sharks, yellow tangs, eels, and many other species of underwater marine life.

Most importantly, Leam, his parents, and his younger sister will also have the chance to exhale, relax and enjoy the tropical sun, serving as a welcome respite from the challenges they face together.

"This to be one of the greatest gifts you could say - that brought me tears because he more than deserves it," Snoeu said.

For the month of April, The Learning Experience centers across the entire country will fundraise for Make-A-Wish to help create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.

The annual "Let's Grant Wishes" campaign raised $1.5 million in April 2022, $500,000 in New Jersey, and has cumulatively raised nearly $3 million nationwide since their partnership began in 2018.

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