Putting a smile on a child’s face in times of worry and pain is priceless for Richmond residents Heather and Hans Pedersen.
After losing their daughter Jennifer to leukemia at the age of five, they found a way to channel their grief towards creating positive memories for other children.
They joined the Make-A-Wish Foundation — internationally known for granting wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions — as volunteers back in 1986, inspired by cherished memories of the day their daughter saw her dream come true.
Although the girl’s health was in decline, the foundation arranged to fly the Pedersen family to Disneyland where Jennifer celebrated her birthday with Mickey Mouse.
Shortly after returning home, the brave young girl lost her battle.
“It was so nice to see Jennifer and her two sisters totally having a good time and to witness the excitement on their faces,” Heather Pedersen recalled.
Their trip to Disneyland also felt like “a reunification of our family,” she said, referring to the long days she spent at the hospital by Jennifer’s side while Grandma pitched in on the care of the other children, then aged eight and 11.
“We could be together again as a family, without being worried about doctor’s appointments or hospital visits.”
Due to their personal experience, Heather and Hans Pedersen — now 69 and 68 years old — understand better than most what it means to have a wish granted.
“We know how those families feel… It’s gratifying knowing somebody else is going to have the memories we have.”
The Pedersens have shown their support to Make-A-Wish B.C. and Yukon through interviewing wish kids, volunteering at various fundraising events and stuffing envelopes for direct mail campaigns.
They even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in memory of the 20th anniversary of Jennifer’s wish in 2005, raising enough money with fellow team members to light up the lives of about 18 seriously ill children.
In recognition of their outstanding service, Make-A-Wish B.C. and Yukon has awarded the couple the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, which recognizes significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.
“We both feel very honoured they thought enough of what we do,” Heather said.
She and her husband will be presented the Jubilee Medal during a reception at the Fairmont YVR Nov. 24.
“The Pedersens have surely lived our mission with their daughter having been granted a wish, and their commitment to our foundation has never wavered,” said Kim Heron, communications director at Make-A-Wish B.C. and Yukon.
Their length of service is also remarkable, added Heron, as most volunteers stay on board for three to five years.
Except for Heather Pedersen’s sister — who started a few months earlier and got them involved — the Pedersens have been the longest serving volunteers across the province.
And with 26 years of helping make precious memories behind them, the couple is still counting.
“We plan on volunteering as long as we are needed,” said Heather Pedersen.