Medina RR Museum helps make dream come true for 3-year-old boy with life-threatening illness

Photos by Ginny Kropf: Matteo Vandelinder of Ontario in Wayne County is all smiles as he checks out his new train layout, which was made for him by Dan Koneski and Jerry Kwiatkowski, volunteers at Medina Railroad Museum. He was at the Museum today in a visit arranged through the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 12 October 2020 at 5:32 pm

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.

Medina firefighter/paramedic Adam Fisher, right, this morning shows the Vanderlinder family of Ontario in Wayne County a Medina firetruck at Dunkin’ Donuts, where they met before Fisher escorted them to Medina Railroad Museum. Mom Alba is holding her 3-year-old son Matteo, who suffers from a terminal spine tumor. With them is his sister Gilda, 6, and dad Jeff.

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.

The Medina firetruck turns from West Avenue into the parking lot for the Medina Railroad Museum this morning with 3-year-old Matteo Vanderlinder and his mom Alba in the front seat. Firefighter/paramedic Adam Fisher escorted them from Dunkin Donuts to the museum by way of Main Street, West Center and West Avenue.

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.

Matteo is all eyes as he and his mom get out of the fire truck after a ride to Medina Railroad Museum.

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.

Adam Fisher, left, firefighter/paramedic with the Medina Fire Department, presents 3-year-old Matteo Vandelinder with a fire truck and helmet as he arrives at Medina Railroad Museum on Monday morning. Holding Matteo is his mom Alba. His sister Gilda, 6, is partially hidden, and dad Jeff is at right.

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.

Matteo looks over the train layout at Medina Railroad Museum, as he is held by a former nanny.

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.”

Caitlyn Klotzbach and Rick Henn, president of the Medina Railroad Museum board and a conductor on train excursions, display a collection of balloons as they wait for the arrival of 3-year-old Matteo Vandelinder, whose visit was made possible through Make-a-Wish Foundation. Klotzbach wears a T-shirt with a star on the front and Matteo’s name on the back.

Provided photo: Caitlyn Klotzbach and Rick Henn join Matteo and his family for a photo. The Medina Railroad Museum was happy to welcome the family today as part of a visit coordinated by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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