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A seriously ill teenager’s wish to “meet the sidemen” comes true

Joe, from Caterham in Surrey, has been repeatedly misdiagnosed, with one doctor attributing his symptoms of abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss to anxiety. At the age of 10, Joe was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease; a lifelong inflammatory bowel disease that affects the digestive system.

“Joe was so scared of the disease that he learned to live with the pain for years,” recalls 47-year-old Mark Jones, Joe’s father. “He never complained so we never knew how bad it was. One day I went to his school assembly and realized how tiny he was compared to his peers. That’s when I knew something was seriously wrong.”

“Everything stopped,” Mark said. “It was a very exciting time for all of us. You don’t know what questions to ask because you don’t know what it is. Joe was very scared – he had to have an NG tube fitted under anesthesia because he was too scared that this would happen while he was awake.”

Joe spent months in the hospital undergoing treatment but was allowed to bring his game console into the ward, with special gaming sessions built into his hospital routine. Mark said: “Playing is a big part of his life. It gave him the motivation to get through the treatment.”

Children’s charity Make-A-Wish UK has seen a 400 per cent increase in gambling requests in recent years as more seriously ill children turn to gambling to recover from their condition. This week the charity asked gamers to unite behind their Wish 200 Week fundraiser, which aims to raise £400,000 in 7 days.

A seriously ill teenager's wish to

Lia Young, Child Psychotherapist and Medical Advisor at Make-A-Wish UK said:

“Most young people today live in two worlds at the same time: the real world and the virtual world. If the real world can feel limiting or lonely, the virtual world can be a place to meet friends, share experiences with peers, and where anything is possible.”

Joe’s love of gaming led him into the world of gaming videos on YouTube where he started watching the sidemen; a group of British personalities including KSI who film pranks and game-related content.

A seriously ill teenager's wish to

Mark said:

“His whole face lit up when Make-A-Wish said they could help him meet the sidemen. Something in him has changed. He started handling the situation better because he had something he needed to get better at. His wish was a glimmer of light.”

Joe’s wish was scheduled for April 11thth 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put plans on hold as Joe’s condition meant he was listed as vulnerable. Finally, on the 20thth March 2022, Joe and his big brother Jack were invited to Hamley’s to meet the sidemen.

“We were pretty nervous,” said Mark. “Then as we were about to pick him up the doors of the Hamleys opened and out came little Joe who looked ten feet tall and had the most amazing smile on his face. We hadn’t seen him smile like that in years, but here he was – we had our son back. It was so emotional. We can’t thank Make-A-Wish enough – they gave us our son back.”

A seriously ill teenager's wish to

Joe was able to hang out with the sidemen for over an hour, playing games, signing merchandise and recording videos. For Mark and Caren, the wishing experience was an integral part of their son’s recovery.

“Even before the wish, it was like Make-A-Wish was the invisible doctor in the room, urging him to get better so he could get his wish,” Mark said. “Shortly after his wish was granted, he went into remission and his team couldn’t understand it! He was just a completely different boy. You need faith in life – you need a spark, motivation, something to be happy about. Joe hasn’t had it for years, but now he does because of Make-A-Wish.”

Joe now wants to give back to the charity that granted his wish by attending Wish 200 Week; a 7-day fundraiser from 18th – 22nd of July. The charity is hoping to raise £400,000 to grant 200 wishes for seriously ill children like Joe across the UK. Joe will lend his support by taking over a sponsored live stream of his favorite game, Minecraft.

Jason Suckley, Chief Executive of Make-A-Wish UK said:

“In July 2021, hundreds of content creators came together to raise over £200,000 for the Make-A-Wish UK charity; enough to grant 100 wishes to seriously ill children like Joe. This year, with Joe’s help, we will double that number.

“Like play, the power of a wish can illuminate the darkness for children living with critical condition and leave a profound and lasting impact on their lives. £400,000 will light the darkness for 200 more children like Joe, with 100% of funds raised going directly to granting wishes. Visit www.make-a-wish.org.uk/wish200week to learn more.”

Mark, Joe and the rest of the family plan are determined to support Make-A-Wish UK as much as we can to grant more wishes.

“When we were in the hospital, we learned that even on your worst days, there’s always someone having a worse day than you,” Mark said. “Joe wants to make sure as many children as possible have their best days. Make-A-Wish can do this more than any other charity. They give their children back to their families. Without them we wouldn’t know where we would be.”

Joe continues to be treated for life for Crohn’s but is now catching up in school and plans to study Business and Media for his GCSEs.

“He can do anything now and he knows it,” said Mark. “We just want him to be happy. When you go through something like this as a family, you learn that the only thing that matters is being happy. That’s the effect Make-A-Wish has—pure bliss.”

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