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Make-A-Wish “kid” becomes published author

August 6, 2018

BARRE, Vt. (AP) — Jamie Heath got her wish. Now she’s working on her dreams.

Heath knows better than most it doesn’t always work out that way, but the improbable ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation — a 17-year-old with a passion for turtles, a children’s book hot off the presses and a future that grows more certain by the day — is loving life right now.

Why not?

Heath, of Barre, has had a rougher run medically than most, but she’s comfortably on the other side of two debilitating strokes and has all but beaten a life-threatening condition that caused her last brain bleed five years ago.

It has been a slow but steady road to recovery that is almost over. Heath is convinced she was aided immensely by her selection as a Vermont “Wish Kid” in 2014.

Heath was “barely walking, barely reading and unable to move her right arm and fingers” at the time. She wasn’t terminally ill, but learned you didn’t need to be to qualify for a “wish” and told her mother, Joanne Leclerc, that she wanted one.

“I asked my mom: ‘Hey, why don’t I get a wish?’” Heath recalled during an interview at her Ayers Street home this week.

Heath did, and by all accounts it was a difference-maker even before she decided she wanted to swim with sea turtles in Hawaii.

Just thinking about what to wish for was therapeutic, according to Heath, who said she briefly considered asking to meet a celebrity but ruled that out before ever seriously thinking about selecting one.

“I wanted to get my whole family involved,” she recalled. “My mom said: ‘It’s your wish,’ but I thought: ’My family is going to make my wish so much better . so I decided to swim with the sea turtles. In Hawaii, no less!”

A lot of good things have happened to Heath since the family trip in April 2015, but Leclerc agreed the wish was a game-changer.

“Wishes are medicine,” Leclerc said, borrowing the title from her daughter’s new book: “Wishes are Medicine! How Make-A-Wish Gave Me Hope & Helped Me Heal.”

“It does give you hope at the end of the day and it’s not just the wish, it’s looking forward to the wish,” Leclerc added.

It’s why Heath, who has been speaking at Make-A-Wish fundraisers since returning from her trip, jumped at the chance to collaborate with Leonard Wells Kenyon on the children’s book that has her juggling interviews in advance of a tour that starts next week.

“I’m her manager,” Leclerc said before being corrected by Heath, who appreciates her mother’s multiple roles and shares her sense of humor.

“You’re my ‘mom-ager,’” said Heath, who, but for the “walk aid” she happened to be wearing on her right leg Thursday afternoon, showed no signs of the stroke she suffered back in seventh grade.

Five years after having to trade in her lacrosse stick for a cane and soccer shin pads for a brace on her right leg and foot, Heath no longer need either one. The once-endless stream of appointments with physical and occupational therapists has slowed to a trickle.

Heath is down to one session of occupational therapy every two months, and while she still has more than her share of doctor’s appointments, she isn’t complaining.

“All in all, I’m trudging,” Heath said, choosing a turtle-esque verb to explain how she views her progress.

“I’m keeping on,” she added.

That is an understatement, because after her big book reveal in Burlington on Tuesday, she’s off on an eight-stop tour that will include a 6:30 p.m. appearance at Next Chapter Bookstore in Barre on Wednesday

“I am a little bit stressed, but I’m mostly excited,” she said. “I’m excited to share the power of the ‘wish’ on my book tour.”

You won’t find a much bigger believer in the Make-A-Wish Foundation than Heath, who is touched by how the organization embraced her.

“It’s the ‘wish’ that keeps on giving,” she said. “It really is.”

Heath is squeezing in the book tour before starting her senior year at Spaulding High School and taking courses at Vermont Technical College.

After graduation?

Heath is thinking about attending the University of Vermont, which has a turtle-friendly pet policy. That could be a factor for Heath. She was wearing turtle earrings and a turtle necklace on Thursday, has a “turtle shrine” in her bedroom and once “rescued” a turtle she named Bob from a soccer field in Williamstown and ferried him to her father’s house in South Barre in her mouthguard case.

“He died after nine months,” Heath said, adding that thanks to Kenyon’s illustrations, Bob will live forever on each and every page of her book.

“I think Bob would like that,” said Heath, who already knows what she’d like to do for a living.

“I want to work for Make-A-Wish or a nonprofit like Make-A-Wish,” she said. “Make-A-Wish is the dream.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2KsVzcl

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Information from: The Times Argus, http://www.timesargus.com/

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