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Cancer survivor’s wish delivers medical care in Guatemala

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Matthew Boroditsky, centre, poses for a photo with children living in the Project Somos Children’s Village in Chivarabal, Guatemala.

For Vancouverite Matthew Boroditsky, a moment of clarity came at the most unlikely time. It was 2013 when, at the age of 17, the Grade 12 student’s life was turned upside down by a diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma. In the midst of chemotherapy treatments that left him feeling weak, sick, vulnerable and exhausted, Boroditsky was approached by the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada and offered a wish.

“The nurse looking after me showed me pictures of Disneyland and Xboxes,” he recalled. “Afterwards, I sat in my room and thought to myself, ‘there’s a lot of power behind this wish and if I direct it properly, I could change a lot of people’s lives.’ I wanted something that would serve as a constant reminder to me of the importance of having gratitude every day. I wanted to look back on my wish 30 years later and be proud of how it could change adversity into something amazing that continues to impact people.”

Six months earlier, Boroditsky and 13 of his classmates at Saint George’s School had traveled to Guatemala. While there, they helped construct a playground for children living in the Project Somos Children’s Village, a community for at-risk mothers and children located in the impoverished town of Chivarabal. When Boroditsky witnessed an injury on the playground, he was stunned to learn how inaccessible medical care was for the injured child. Those memories came flooding back, as he sat in his hospital room contemplating his wish.

“The idea of using my wish to make change for these people came to me quickly,” he said. “I knew I wanted to help build a community medical clinic, where people could receive health care, education and increase their health literacy. That was my wish.”

READ: THE GUATEMALANS WHO SOUGHT SPIRITUALITY AND CONVERTED TO JUDAISM

It’s rare for the Children’s Wish Foundation to receive a wish of this nature, something the organization terms a “giving wish.”

“We grant over 1,000 wishes across Canada each year, but giving wishes are unique and there’s only been a small handful of them over the years,” said Jillian Slattery, communications specialist for the foundation’s B.C. and Yukon chapter. “The majority of our wishes are travel wishes for destinations like Disneyland, Disney World and Disney Cruises.”

Boroditsky and his family researched the cost of making his wish come true and learned that building the medical clinic would cost between $90,000 and $100,000. The Children’s Wish Foundation pledged $7,500 and the rest was up to Boroditsky to raise.

By this time, it was 2014, and he was grateful for his clean bill of health, as he began his first year at McMaster University. Over the next three years, fundraising campaigns were in full swing at Saint George’s School and through social media. Word of the clinic spread and donations started pouring in. In the midst of it all, Boroditsky found himself in contact with people he’d never dreamed would enter his life prior to his diagnosis.

I wanted to look back on my wish 30 years later and be proud.
– Matthew Boroditsky

“One day I got a call from Mario Lemiux, a professional hockey player for Pittsburgh who had fought Hodgkins Lymphoma when he was my age,” he said. “We got in touch and he donated signed jerseys for our auctions!”

By August 2017, construction was complete and Boroditsky traveled back to Chivarabal with his parents for the opening ceremony of the Clinica de Mateo, the Clinic of Matthew. The traditional Mayan ceremony included dancing and celebration, but the most special moment came right at the end.

“One of the mothers from the community was holding her child, when she tapped me on the shoulder,” Boroditsky recalled. “She thanked me for what I had done for her community and for her country and said she would never forget it. That was it – that was my wish come true.”

Boroditsky’s diagnosis changed his life. He’s now 21 and enrolled in the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine. He decided to follow this career path after meeting Dr. Jeff Davis, his oncologist at the British Columbia Children’s Hospital.

“He had such impact, such a human touch, and a way of connecting not just with me, but with our whole family,” Boroditsky recalled. “Dr. Davis went out of his way to ensure our experience was positive and I realized I wanted to dedicate my life so that I could do this for other people, too.”

In March, Boroditsky was the guest speaker at the Night of Wonders Gala, the Children’s Wish Foundation’s annual fundraiser, where he told his story to 400 attendees.

“I would never have thought that what happened to me four years previously would culminate in the opening of the clinic,” he confessed. “It just shows the importance of a community coming together and how a simple idea can change a lot of people’s lives.”