Medina RR Museum helps make dream come true for 3-year-old boy with life-threatening illness
Matteo Vandelinder of Wayne County is battling tumor in spine
MEDINA – A 3-year-old little boy named Matteo had his wish come true this morning, when he visited the Medina Railroad Museum. The trip was made possible by the Make-a-Wish Foundation in Buffalo.
Matteo, a son of Jeff and Alba Vandelinder of Ontario in Wayne County, suffers from a terminal spinal cord tumor, said his mother Alba.
He loves trains and the family first brought him to the museum when they brought his then 3-year-old sister Gilda to ride Polar Express.
“His dad spent hours in the museum looking at the layout, and Matteo was with him the entire time,” Alba said.
Matteo was only 7 months old when he was diagnosed with the inoperable tumor. His mother explained this is the same type of tumor that caused the death of U.S. Senator John McCain. However, it is very rare for it to occur in the spine, rather than the brain.
Matteo has gone through 20 rounds of chemotherapy, 35 rounds of radiation, three stem cell transplants and two clinical trials.
His prognosis is unknown, his mother said. Originally, Matteo was given only three months to live, but he achieved three years on Sept. 6.
When Make-a-Wish contacted the Medina Railroad Museum to set up Matteo’s visit, museum personnel jumped into high gear.
“We got an e-mail that a little boy wanted a model railroad layout and to see the museum,” said Caitlyn Klotzbach, event coordinator and staff supervisor at the museum. “His family said he was strong enough to make the trip.”
Klotzbach and volunteer coordinator Grace Stewart said this is the first time the museum has received a request from Make-a-Wish.
“You don’t know how much it means to me to be able to do this for this little boy,” Stewart said.
Volunteers Dan Koneski and Jerry Kwiatkowski started building a train layout for Matteo, complete with buildings, scenery, vehicles and an operating train. Make-a-Wish will deliver it to the Vandelinder home in Ontario, along with a Thomas the Train play table.
The community stepped up to help. Case-Nic Cookies made train cut-out cookies, Dollar Tree donated dozens of inflatable balloons and Douglas Island of Medina made T-shirts with a star on the front and Matteo’s name on the back. Medina Fire Department agreed to meet the family at the edge of town and escort them to the museum.
This morning firefighter/paramedic Adam Fisher and a police escort met the Vanderlinder family and a dozen friends at Dunkin’ Donuts. Instead of just an escort, Matteo and his mom were allowed to ride in the front seat of the fire truck.
“This was the best ride ever,” Alba said. “He was screaming with joy and I cried and cried.”
At the museum, Fisher presented Matteo with a toy fire truck and fireman’s helmet.
Inside a table was loaded with toy trains and gifts which had been donated by members and employees of the museum.
After an hour and a half of exploring the museum, the staff and family gathered outside for pictures.
“They couldn’t thank us enough,” said Rick Henn, president of the Railroad Museum Board, who was dressed in his conductor’s uniform. “Matteo’s mom was absolutely thrilled.”