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YELLOW DUCKS BRING FAMILIES TOGETHER AGAIN

At first glance, it looked like a typical children's party - clowns, food and lots of laughter. But up close it was a bittersweet reunion of families who know the pain of having children with life-threatening illnesses.

The reunion was part of the Rubber Duckie Derby Fund-raiser, organized by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with deadly diseases."They share something that nobody else understands," said Chris Shaver, the Make-a-Wish director. "It gives families something to plan for, and look forward to, when the only other thing you plan is the next trip to the hospital or the next (session) of chemo."

The yellow, plastic ducks were adopted for $5 by Utahns and then raced around Lagoon's Lazy River. Ducks bought by Gem Insurance won the race and a new car. After the race, families were treated to a picnic and reunion party.

Roxanne and Deris Wilson enjoyed the annual reunion because it gives them a chance to see friends such as Debbie and Tom Orman. They met at Primary Children's Medical Center when both of their little boys had cancer.

Eric Wilson, now 5, had two malignant brain tumors removed. Jamie Orman would have been 5 years old, too, but he didn't survive his battle with neuroblastoma.

Both little boys wished for - and got - to see Mickey Mouse's house, thanks to Make-a-Wish. In April of 1992, the Wilsons and their four children flew to Orlando, Fla., where they were driven in a limousine to condominiums that cater to children with life-threatening illnesses.

"With all the unhappiness . . . it gave him four days of not having to be poked or prodded," Roxanne Wilson said.

Without the Make-a-Wish help, Deris Wilson said, the family would never have been able to make Eric's wish come true.

"You're so overwhelmed financially and emotionally providing care," Roxanne Wilson said.

Jamie Orman went to Disney World just two months before he passed away. His parents said most people will never understand how it feels to have a sick child's wish granted.

"Most people can't understand the importance of Make-a-Wish," Tom Orman said. "You can hardly describe . . . " His voice trails off and he looks at his wife for words. She tries to describe how they felt when Jamie had another wish granted.

She says Jamie was reading a book about trucks with a Make-a-Wish volunteer and saw a snow-plow.

"He told her he wanted to ride on one," Debbie Orman said. "One day in December, a snowplow pulled up in front of our house. We didn't even know about it. All the little kids in the neighborhood were so envious."

Then she added, "There's no way anybody can even imagine."