Mother of first “Make-A-Wish” child shares impact of son’s legacy

OKLAHOMA CITY - Chris always wanted to be a police officer.

One day, he met U.S. Customs Agent Tommy Austin who would one day make that wish come true.

In 1977, Chris was diagnosed with leukemia at 7-years-old.

"It was about six to eight weeks later, they weaseled it out of me why he was going bald and why he bruised easily," said Linda Pauling.

Once family friends knew about the diagnosis, they were inspired to do something.

"So Tommy and Kay got together and they got a couple of his other buddies and said, 'One of these days, we're going to do something special for him and that's going to be a helicopter ride,'” Pauling said.

That day would finally come on April 29, 1980 after Linda learned her son's illness was taking over at a rapid rate.

"And I said, 'Tommy, if there's any way possible for me to call in that favor, now is the time,'" she said.

In a uniform and Smokey bear hat, Chris got to spend the day with officers in Arizona.  He enjoyed a helicopter ride and tour of the Department of Public Safety station.

"The whole day with Chris and the officers was phenomenal. This was something that I was helpless to do, but these guys came together," said Linda Pauling, mother of first “Make-A-Wish” kid.

He was also made honorary DPS officer.

"The colonel reached in his desk drawer with a badge and certificate with Chris' name on it," she remembered.

Four days later, Chris passed away. He was buried with that badge.

His legacy lives on after Pauling and several others started the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which has now made more than 450,000 wishes come true to children with critical illnesses.

In all, 156 wishes were granted in Oklahoma last year. Wishes like being a ballerina, seeing 'Lion King: the Musical' and becoming a police officer with the Muskogee Creek Nation Police Force.

"A few years ago, one of our wish kids, Andrew, wished to give his mentor and piano teacher a piano," Beverly Mullen, development officer at Make-A-Wish Oklahoma, said.

Each wish has one goal in mind, which is to brighten the day of a child going through so much.

"Until every disease is cured, we will continue to grant wishes far into the future," Mullen said.

"I know what it did for me. I know what it did for Chris and to be able to give that back to another human being was the greatest gift of all,” Pauling said.

Pauling is speaking at the nonprofit’s luncheon on Tuesday. While it's a sold-out event, they say they are really in need of volunteers right now.

If you're interested in volunteering or donating, visit the Make-A-Wish Oklahoma website.

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