The trip had to be delayed a day and he wasn't sure until the last minute whether he'd feel well enough to go, but Matt Verville had his wish come true: He made it to Hawaii.
The Mission Viejo youth, a terminal cancer patient whose wish was to visit the place where he was born, spent a week with his family in Hawaii thanks to the Starlight Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill persons.
As Matt's mother, Jean, said earlier this week: "He was very determined to go."
Matt, 18--who had a leg amputated in 1984 after being diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a highly malignant bone tumor--was hospitalized a week before he was scheduled to leave for Hawaii. He had become dehydrated following a chemotherapy treatment and was unable to eat or keep liquids down, including the liquid morphine he was taking to ease the pain in his leg, back and pelvic area.
Matt also had been chosen to light a special 35-foot Christmas tree in front of the Visiting Nurse Assn. building in Orange the day before the Hawaii trip but was unable to attend the ceremony. Matt's father, Marine Sgt. Maj. Thaddeus Verville, stood in for his son.
But on Dec. 4, Matt was driven directly from Mission Community Hospital to Los Angeles International Airport where he, his parents and two of his sisters caught a flight to Honolulu.
The Vervilles were accompanied by two of Matt's best friends, Bobby Thompson and Paul Sherburne, as well as Vera Lang, a Visiting Nurse Assn. hospice volunteer who has been visiting the Verville's home since September and who arranged the trip through the Starlight Foundation.
Jean Verville said the morning they left for the airport "Matt was very sick and he felt very sick riding over to Hawaii."
His Face 'Brightened'
The group was met in Honolulu by her two sisters. Seeing his relatives so "brightened" her son's face, Jean Verville said, that for a moment it seemed as though he wasn't even ill. "Seeing his cousins was just really something else," she said.
But Matt, who was wheelchair-bound the entire trip, continued to feel nauseous and had to stay in his hotel room the first few days.
"At first he felt disappointed," his mother said, "but then he saw the waves and everything outside, and it kind of made it not so bad. The hotel we had, the Hawaiian Regency, gave us VIP service and one of the best views overlooking Waikiki Beach. We could see the sunset and the sunrise, and we could see people swimming at 6 in the morning. It was just really marvelous."
Jean Verville said Matt "pushed himself the last three days of the trip to do some sightseeing, although we were limited in what we could do."
An 'Emotional Moment'
Although he was unable to have a drink on the beach with Vera Lang as they had planned, Matt was able to visit the cemetery where Jean Verville's father and grandmother are buried and where Matt one day will be interred.
"He wasn't able to to come out of the car, but he saw me putting flowers on the grave site," Jean Verville said. "It was a very emotional moment."
She said Matt did not feel sick on the return flight, but after landing in Los Angeles his parents gave him some unexpected bad news.
The day after they had arrived in Hawaii, the Vervilles received a phone call from one of their daughters at home, who informed them that Matt's year-old Pomeranian dog, Smokey, had died of an apparent heart attack.
Jean Verville said they waited until they were on their way home from the airport to tell Matt.
"It was a very devastating thing," she said. "He cried, just literally feeling the loss of his dog."
She said she had given the dog to Matt as a Christmas present last year "as an incentive for him to go on loving other things in life. He was very close to the dog: When he'd cry the dog would cry; when he was sick the dog would know that he was sick."
'We Have to Accept Things'
But just as she had talked to Matt about his own dying, she said, "I told him we have to accept the things we can't change. We should aways look on the positive side of life rather than the negative side."
She added that Matt is "contemplating now whether or not he should get another dog."
She said the trip "was very exhausting for Matt and for us because we just didn't know what to expect and, I guess, just the fear of (not knowing whether Matt could handle) the pain. Everything just went real beautiful, but it was exhausting."
Then Jean Verville laughed. "But it was worth it just to see his face light up when he saw the family. It was just very nice.
"I told Matthew he was very courageous to do the things that he did. To see him pushing himself just to get up and want to finish up the trip, it's just really courageous."
And, she added, "I want to thank the Starlight Foundation. Words cannot express what they have done for my son."
Although Matt was not feeling up to talking to a reporter, he prepared a statement about the trip which his mother relayed over the phone.
"He thanks the public and press who gave him support and all the people who have listed him in prayers to give him the courage to fulfill his wish," she said. "And he thanks God, above all, for this wonderful blessing."