The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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April 3, 2013

VIDEO: With help of Galena residents, Joplin boy gets wish on Route 66

GALENA, Kan. — The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants a wish somewhere in the country every 38 minutes. At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Andy Shepherd’s came true in Galena.

The 14-year-old sixth-grader from Joplin, Mo., has had induced cerebral palsy since he was shaken as a baby.

“He has severe learning delays and in December was declared legally blind,” said his grandmother, Linda Shepherd, a retired Joplin teacher. Andy and his father, Larry, live with her, and she has helped provide for his care since he was a toddler.

“He is very happy and outgoing and loves everybody,” she said. “He’s mostly a normal little boy.”

Normal except that doctors told the family that Andy likely would never progress beyond the cognitive abilities of a 3-year-old, and he likely would have no mobility and would need a wheelchair.

“But his evaluation in December showed he’s reached an 8-year-old’s development,” his grandmother said proudly. “And he’s able to walk on his own using forearm crutches now. He has far exceeded everything they said.”

It hasn’t been easy. Andy has had two major surgeries — hip reconstruction and a selective dorsal rhizotomy on his vertebrae — and intensive pediatric therapy.

“My hope with this was to just make him happy,” his grandmother said. “He just wants to be a regular little boy.”

She turned to the Make-A-Wish Foundation for help. A team of about 25,000 volunteers helps Make-A-Wish grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to give them hope, strength and joy.

“It’s not a last wish — it’s a wish to encourage them to keep them going,” said Southwest Missouri volunteer Marla Gourley, of Galena. “Especially if they have something not life-threatening. For example, cancers are life-threatening, but there is hope.”

Gourley, 40, was diagnosed with uterine cancer when she was in her early 30s and recently began using crutches after a torn hip ligament. She said she understands what a person goes through when faced with physical and emotional challenges.

“It was a thing that drew my attention really quick,” Gourley said. “It’s a touching area to my heart all the way around.”

Andy, a fan of Pixar’s “Cars” movie, expressed a wish that especially touched a nerve with Gourley: He wanted to see one of his favorite characters, Tow Mater, in real life, drive along Route 66 and visit Cars Land at Disneyland in California.

“I live here and take for granted that street,” Gourley said of Route 66 in Galena. “But here he is, and all he wants to do is be on Route 66 and go to California. That’s getting emotional.”

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