Wishing It Forward

A Middletown teen’s selfless decision is making hospital stays more comfortable for children with cancer

Since 1986, the area Make-A-Wish foundation has granted 6,582 wishes. Almost all of those recipients, quite naturally, used the wish to fulfill a dream, like meeting a celebrity, going to Disneyland or getting a puppy.

But four of the recipients opted to donate their wish. Meet the latest member of that selfless quartet: Quincy Harmon.

When he was approached by Make-A-Wish, the Middletown teenager was, of course, tempted to pick a wish for himself.

“You know, that’s what everybody thinks, but I couldn’t think of what I wanted,” says Harmon, who in late 2016 was a 16-year-old fighting bone cancer. “I had everything I needed or wanted.”

When Make-a-Wish told the Harmon family about the lesser-used option of using the wish to give back to a hospital or another organization, Quincy took to the idea. The family batted around proposals until Quincy thought back to his stay at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. Because he was undergoing chemotherapy that weakened his immune system, he had to stay in his hospital room for days at a time. He could only lie in bed so long before feeling sick. But as a tall kid—he was almost 6-1 by then—he had a hard time relaxing in chairs made for shorter kids.

So he decided to use his wish to provide more comfortable chairs for those hospital rooms, both for the kids themselves and for parents, who could use a recliner to hold their children.

The family worked with one of the hospital’s designers to plan the chair’s every detail. They considered four prototypes, selected the best traits from each, then the Harmons and the hospital christened the first “Q-Lounger,” named in Quincy’s honor, in May 2017.

Make-A-Wish purchased four of the chairs and the manufacturer pitched in one more. Then a Wilmington-based foundation called Live Like Lukas, which formed in 2017 after the cancer death of Lukas Kusters, donated about $35,000 to purchase about a dozen more chairs.

Quincy intended the chairs to be a gift for other children and families. So it was in some ways a cruel irony that he would be back within a year, using a chair for himself. But the gifts gave his family something deeper than physical comfort.

Quincy Harmon, shown here playing with therapy dogs at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, was 15 when he started treatment for osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Photo courtesy of Chantay Harmon

An Ominous Knee Injury

Quincy’s cancer had been discovered because of a sports injury. He had always been an athlete, and his tall, lean frame made basketball a natural choice. But in February 2016 he hurt his knee during tryouts at St. Georges Technical High School and the family took him to the emergency room to get an X-ray. That’s when they found the tumor.

It had started in his femur, then spread into the soft tissue of his knees, where it caused the pain that sent him to the ER. The pain may have saved his life; had the cancer continued to develop inside his bones, where there are fewer nerves, it may not have been spotted until it was too late.

He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that tends to strike during a teen’s growth spurt, with unusually tall children at higher risk.

At first, the mass was so large doctors didn’t know if they could save his leg. They avoided an amputation, though Quincy underwent a knee replacement and a May 2016 surgery that replaced a third of his thigh bone with a metal rod.

Because disease-fighting cells originate within bones, chemotherapy that targets tumors there devastates the immune system. It means patients like Harmon are kept isolated for days at a time to protect them from microbes. Beyond schoolwork, there wasn’t much for him to do in his hospital room. Whiling away the hours was made harder by beds and chairs designed for shorter kids. But the discomfort he endured would provide the inspiration to donate a wish.

The Fifth Wish

There are four common types of wishes, says Molly Gatto, vice president of mission delivery for Make-A-Wish Philadelphia, Delaware & Susquehanna Valley.

Kids can wish to go somewhere, and about half who choose trips go to Disney World. They can choose to have something, like a treehouse, a puppy or, for one boy whose cancer took him away from his favorite sport, a hockey rink. Other kids choose to meet someone, usually a celebrity, or be someone for a day, like a chef or a police officer.

The average cost of a wish is $10,000.

But there’s a fifth, less common, type of wish—the wish to give.

“I think there’s a maturity level for some of these young people who have gone through a traumatic illness. They appreciate the support that their family and community has provided and they want to pay it forward,” Gatto says.

Quincy and his mother say when they were approached by Make-a-Wish, it scared the family. They associated Make-A-Wish with terminal illnesses, and though his cancer was life-threatening, they wanted to focus on recovery.

It’s a common misconception that wishes are only available to kids with a terminal illness, Gatto says. Instead, they’re for kids with “critical illnesses,” a judgment call that is made in consultation with the child’s physician.

Gatto prefers a maritime metaphor to describe which children qualify for a wish.

“We’re in the lifeboat business,” she says. “We’re there for the child who is in the middle of the lake and can’t quite get across.”

After his initial fear, Harmon had time to think about it and opted to donate his wish. In the meantime, he kept up his grades and was inducted into the National Honor Society in October 2017. But he still needed that lifeboat.

“I’m a survivor,” says Quincy, now a freshman at Drexel University. Photo courtesy of Chantay Harmon

Chair Stories

He had enjoyed almost a full year of remission when, in November 2017, scans revealed that the cancer had returned, this time to his lungs. He had surgery to remove the abnormal cells and returned to the hospital. And one of the Q-Loungers was there in his room.

“It was bittersweet, because that was not how we expected to see the chair in action,” his mother, Chantay, says. But the stories nurses told about how families have been helped by the Q-Lounger became solace for the mother and son.

There was the father who’d recently undergone neck surgery and could only visit his child while sitting in one of the recliners. And there was the child who couldn’t get out of bed unless he could sit in the chair.

“These were the kind of stories that kept us going,” Chantay Harmon says.

In addition to the donation from Live Like Lukas, Quincy’s wish won him recognition from the Still Strong Foundation, which honors cancer survivors who use their experience to help others.

His latest scan showed him clear of cancer, and he graduated from St. Georges Technical High School and is now enjoying life as a freshman at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He can no longer play basketball competitively—golf is his game—but he’s enjoying his major, biology. His goal is to become a cancer researcher.

Far from being a setback, the experience now motivates him. “That’s what inspired me to push through to get into a good school,” he says. “I’m a survivor. It’s where I draw my strength from. It’s why I’m here.”

Make-A-Wish made a video that features Quincy’s gift. See it on YouTube by clicking here.

To donate to Make-A-Wish, visit the local chapter’s website: philadesv.wish.org.

To donate toward more Q-Lounger chairs, go to: secure.qgiv.com/event/team/816526.

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