For Neil Hajjar, a 10-year-old Bernardsville resident with Mecp2 Duplication Syndrome and Moyamoya Disease, the view from his front lawn Wednesday evening was enough to elicit what his mom, Meg, calls his “happy hands.”
Neil waved his arms in delight, perched from his wheelchair atop a brand-new swing as approximately 50 emergency vehicles and at least 200 cars from the community drove by their home. The swing and convoy were sponsored by Make-A-Wish New Jersey, to celebrate Neil’s love of swinging and car-gazing.
“Today is a celebration of Neil and his life-changing wish for this special swing that accommodates his wheelchair,” Tom Weatherall, President & CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey, said in a statement. “We are honored to be able to bring his two favorite experiences together – the sense of freedom on a swing, and the joy of watching cars go by, cheering his name.”
Neil’s convoy coincided with Make A Wish’s 500,000-wish-milestone since the organization’s beginnings in 1980. The New Jersey chapter was founded three years later and has granted more than 11,000 wishes across the state.
Make-A-Wish spent the last two weeks coordinating with the Bernardsville Police Department, who directed traffic for the event. Law enforcement agencies, from Mendham to North Plainfield and nearly a dozen other towns, were represented in the convoy of police cars, firetrucks and motorcycles.
“Something like this immediately garnered a lot of attention from the community as well as our emergency responders and it quickly spread to the towns around us,” Bernardsville Police Chief Kevin Valentine told NJ Advance Media. “It’s important during times like this that we stick together as a community and that we share these kinds of experiences together.”
Residents were staged down Liberty Road, before the parade kicked off at 4:45 p.m. For a lively 20 minutes, they displayed signs like “Swing, Neil, Swing!” while cheering kids poked their heads out sunroofs, though participants were asked not to honk or blare sirens as they would overwhelm Neil.
“His body movements — that was total excitement,” Meg Hajjar told NJ Advance Media. “He enjoyed it from the very beginning to the very end.”
Neil was born with MECP2 Duplication Syndrome, a rare disease that leaves him with low muscle tone and affects his respiratory system as well as his ability to walk and talk. At age 2, he had a stroke and was diagnosed with Moyamoya Disease, leading Neil to undergo brain surgery.
“Everything’s work, everything’s hard for him,” Meg said. “He’s a tough guy.”
The family has lived in Bernardsville for the last seven years. In their previous home in Basking Ridge, they mounted an indoor swing, but Neil had grown out of it after a recent growth spurt.
“This option of a wheelchair swing was perfect for him, and he can use it for so many years to come,” Meg said. With chains wrapped around the chair connecting him to the wooden platform, his dad, Mike, pushed him back and forth Wednesday evening.
Now, as the Hajjar family sits out on their front lawn, Neil can swing and enjoy the view, looking out on a wind chime-decked tree, a little free library painted with flowers and birds and, of course, passing cars.
Though Make-A-Wish was forced to put wishes on hold that involve travel or large gatherings due to the pandemic, the organization continues to grant wishes like Neil’s.
“It makes me emotional, because a day like this is what keeps you going as a parent of a child who is complex like Neil,” Meg said.
Please subscribe now and support the local journalism YOU rely on and trust.
Josh Axelrod may be reached at [email protected]
©2020 NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J.
Visit NJ Advance Media Group, Edison, N.J. at www.nj.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.