By Sarah Boerkircher


Nine-year-old Tiana has an unbridled enthusiasm for horses and horse racing. She is dealing with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a type of cancer that starts in the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow and invades the blood. She watches horse races on television and has found that the horses help distract her from the daily struggles of her medical condition.

Tiana wished to meet the champion Thoroughbred racehorse, Zenyatta. Enter Make-A-Wish®, an incredible organization that grants life-changing wishes for children. 

Local farms across central Kentucky came together to give Tiana and her family an experience they would never forget — a day where they were able to get away from the stress of doctor appointments, tests and hospital visits, and focus on the joy of being a family.

Tiana’s wish began with a visit to Lane’s End Farm, where she toured the facility and received a behind the scenes look at the farm. It was on this tour that her dream of meeting Zenyatta came true.

Tiana smiled from ear to ear as she had her up close and personal visit with the champion horse, who even gave her a few nose kisses.

After meeting Zenyatta, Tiana was off to Keeneland, where she toured the facility and enjoyed watching the races. The excitement for Tiana continued as she met horses in the winner’s circle. Her afternoon was a horse enthusiast’s dream—visiting Rachel Alexandria at Stonestreet Farms, Silver Charm at Old Friends and Bayern at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms.

Tiana’s wish to meet Zenyatta was everything she hoped it would be and more. Thousands of people visit the bluegrass state every year to witness “the most exciting two minutes in sports” at the Kentucky Derby, but for Tiana, none of that compares to the excitement she felt on her wish.

Make-A-Wish Day at Keeneland

Celebrating its eleventh year, Make-A-Wish Day at Keeneland is a partnership with local Thoroughbred farms and equine facilities to grant wishes for many deserving children. This year’s event will be held Thursday, October 11, 2018. Like every year, the event raises funds to grant wishes for kids with critical illnesses.

Among the attendees of Make-A-Wish Day at Keeneland are local kids who have experienced the power of a wish come true. Several local farms and equine medical facilities sponsor the participating wish kids.

“These kids are VIPs for the day; helping to create special memories for the children and their families.” said Kara Heissenbuttel, director of employee and patron experience at Keeneland. “The wish families spend the morning touring their sponsor’s property, and then arrive at Keeneland for the ultimate race day experience. Everything from meeting the Keeneland jockeys in the paddock, having lunch with Buckles, the Keeneland mascot, watching a race from the winner’s circle and at the end of each race, the wish kids present the trophy for the race named after their sponsor.”

Keeneland encourages the community to come out for the 2018 Make-A-Wish Day at Keeneland.

“It is a wonderful experience for Keeneland, our industry partners, our patrons and our employees to come together to honor these amazing kids,” Kara said. “This year, fans are encouraged to cheer on these children and support Make-A-Wish by helping make even more wishes come true by placing a donation into the ‘Wishing Well’ near the South Gate entrance. Our goal is to grant more wishes.”

As Development Officer for Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana Lisa Reeves explained, the impact of a wish varies. For wish kids, just the act of making their wish come true can give them the courage to comply with their medical treatments. Parents might finally feel like they can be optimistic. Community members might realize all they have to offer the world through volunteer work or philanthropy.

“Wishes are more than just a nice thing, they are far more than gifts, or singular events in time,” Lisa said. “Wishes impact everyone involved—wish kids, volunteers, donors, sponsors, medical professionals and communities. And they can have a profound impact on a child’s medical journey.”

Currently, more than 350 children in Kentucky are awaiting their wish. Make-A-Wish is on a quest to bring every eligible child’s wish to life because a wish is an integral part of a child’s treatment journey. A wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a critical illness.

“Wishes are more than just a nice thing, they are far more than gifts, or singular events in time. Wishes impact everyone involved—wish kids, volunteers, donors, sponsors, medical professionals and communities. And they can have a profound impact on a child’s medical journey.”

“This one belief guides us in everything we do at Make-A-Wish: it inspires us to grant wishes that change the lives of the kids we serve,” Lisa said. “It compels us to be creative in exceeding the expectations of every wish kid. It drives us to make our donated resources go as far as possible. Most of all, it’s the founding principle of our vision to grant the wish of every eligible child. We believe that whatever the odds, whatever the obstacles, wishes find a way to make the world better.” •

What is Make-A-Wish?

Make-A-Wish creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. Research shows children who have wishes granted can build the physical and emotional strength they need to fight a critical illness.

Tens of thousands of volunteers, donors and supporters advance the Make-A-Wish vision to grant the wish of every child battling a critical illness. In the United States, and its territories, on average, a wish is granted every 34 minutes.

Are you ready to be a game-changer for a wish child in Kentucky?

Currently there are more than 350 children in Kentucky who are awaiting their wish. Right now, Make-A-Wish is only able to grant the wish of one out of every two eligible children due to funding, so they need support to fulfill their mission to grant the wish of every eligible child.

Through donations, volunteering and fundraising, there’s a way for everyone to help these kids in the community.

To learn more about ways to help, please visi oki.wish.org. You can donate via oki.wish.org, Venmo, PayPal or by contacting Lisa Reeves at 502. 272.4375 or [email protected]

To learn more about Make-A-Wish® Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, please visit oki.wish.org.