TIBURON, Calif. - 9-year-old Corte Madera resident Rhett, who is in remission from acute lymphoid leukemia, was surprised with a proclamation delivered to his fourth grade class at Bel Aire Elementary school in Tiburon.
Congressman Jared Huffman presented the proclamation, which says that Rhett's wish, to meet with the infectious disease team at the World Health Organization in Pretoria, South Africa, will come true. This wish is the culmination of a multi-year journey Rhett and his family have been on, to help raise awareness for the importance of vaccination.
In addition to being an advocate for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Rhett testified in Sacramento in support of legislation for mandated vaccinations, Senate Bill 277. The subject is personally relevant to Rhett, since vaccinations help protect the health and safety of kids like him with compromised immune systems, and his own school had students who were not vaccinated during his 3 ½ years of chemotherapy treatments.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine credited Rhett's advocacy on this issue as one of four factors contributing to the successful passage of legislation to eliminate the personal belief exemption for vaccines in California.
Rhett's wish to visit the WHO in South Africa is an extension of his health care advocacy work, and interest in learning more about vaccines and infectious diseases. During his wish interview, Rhett presented facts and figures on the work of the WHO to his volunteer wish granters, and has done extensive research on the topic.
The second part of Rhett's wish was, in his own words, "to bring medicines and vaccines to poor people in remote places so that they don't die of infectious diseases." While in South Africa, Rhett and his family will spend a day in a province outside Pretoria, visiting a vaccination store and observing vaccine activities that take place there. Rhett will be accompanied by his parents, Carl and Jodi, as well as his 11 year-old sister Annesley.
"For those of us who have had the honor of getting to know Rhett and working with him it was no surprise to find his wish was to serve others, to protect vulnerable people. Rhett's story as a cancer survivor who couldn't be vaccinated changed the conversation about vaccinations in California and ultimately helped change laws," says Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis.
"It says a lot about Rhett that his wish is to help ensure that everyone can receive the same life-saving health care he received, and it holds special meaning to me to be a part of this day," said Rep. Huffman. "Over the years, I have had the opportunity to get to know Rhett while he fought and won difficult a battle against leukemia. He didn't stop there: he has used his tenacity and his passion to advocate for affordable health care for all. I look forward to seeing Rhett's wish come true and seeing what else he accomplishes in the future!"
"Rhett's strength, spirit, and kindness is represented in his wish, and that is what makes this reveal so uniquely heartwarming. What makes his wish so remarkable is Rhett's desire to help others," says Bel Aire School principal, Lexie Cala.