Witnessing Usain Bolt’s performance at the Beijing Olympics in the summer of 2008 piqued 8-year-old Robert Furges’ interest. He promised himself to one day visit the home country of the Olympian who inspired him.
It was also that year that Robert, known as Robie by his friends and family in Durham, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Since then, he has had to shoulder the burden of his illness while maintaining a life typical of a boy his age. “It was challenging at the beginning,” said Robyn Furges, Robie’s mother. “He was able to maintain a level of normalcy. It hasn’t impacted our lives to the point we’re crippled.”
Since the diagnosis, the Furges family has relied on support from their church and the doctors and nurses who have treated Robie over the years. Still, a trip to Jamaica was beyond the family’s means.
Now he, his parents, brother and sister are going to get to go, thanks to a health insurance company and the local affiliate of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. On Wednesday, United Healthcare and Make-A-Wish Eastern NC threw a “wish send-off” party in Cary to commemorate Robie’s vacation to Jamaica later this month. “We are very happy to see that United Healthcare’s national alliance with Make-A-Wish is able to provide Robie with his trip to Jamaica,” the company’s regional CEO, Garland Scott, said in a statement.
The shy 12 year old seemed genuinely surprised when he arrived at his party. Overcome, he immediately began sobbing with what appeared to be a mixture of happiness and embarrassment.
Robie, who attends Githens Middle School in Durham, said he looks forward to the trip, despite the fact he’s never been on an airplane. He said he is excited about the beach, sand, food and people.
The trip is funded by United Healthcare, which has sponsored several Make-A-Wish projects, and organized by Make-A-Wish Eastern N.C., a nonprofit that serves 49 counties in the eastern half of the state and has helped grant 2,400 “wishes” since its creation in 1986.
“I think what they have done is wonderful,” said Robyn Furges. “The way they show community support is awesome.”
The party atmospherestood in stark contrast to United Healthcare’s offices in a massive building on Winstead Drive. Aside from Robie and his mother, it was attended by his siblings Gregory Mckennon, 15, and Genevieve Furges, 10, along with several other employees of Make-A-Wish and United Healthcare.