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Jackie brings hope to Lurie Children's epilepsy patients

Val Warner and Anna Nannicelli present a 2018 Women & Wishes Award to Jackie Wolak
The job of a nurse can be grueling at times. Children can associate you with both good things – like lollipops after a check-up – or bad things – like injections and other painful treatments. Jacqueline “Jackie” Wolak, an Advanced Practice Nurse and Family Nurse Practitioner in the Epilepsy Division of Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, finds joy in bringing her patients hope through referring them to Make-A-Wish.
Jackie said she made her first referral in 2016 after being a Make-A-Wish volunteer wish granter for two children and learning about Lurie Children’s legacy of wish referrals. Since then, she’s referred 16 children with critical illnesses and helped them get their wishes granted.

“I heard about it from a seasoned social worker in the division who educated me on it,” Jackie said. “The Epilepsy Division has made referrals for years, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

As a nurse in the Epilepsy Division, Jackie works very closely with children and adolescents with developmental delays and epilepsy. Jackie said for children with more serious forms of epilepsy that require more frequent surgeries and hospital stays, a wish can be a great reward for them after procedures.

“A wish can play a huge role in a child’s treatment process,” Jackie said. “It’s something to look forward to for these kids, especially after a tough surgery. It’s not just the trips Make-A-Wish can send them on, either – some wishes can make their home life better, as far as wheelchair accessibility and play rooms.”

“I’ve definitely seen mental and emotional benefits in the children, and their families too,” Jackie said. “These parents spend so much time taking care of their kids, and a wish experience can help them relax and remind them that there are people thinking of them when they feel alone.”

Even a child’s medical team can benefit from witnessing a wish journey, according to Jackie.

“Every time we get paperwork back [from Make-A-Wish] after a referral, it’s so exciting,” Jackie said. “It’s something we look forward to every week. It makes us happy to see our patients happy, and we get to enjoy it with them as they decide their wish and get ready for it to be granted. It’s a great way to contribute in a non-medical way.”

Jackie said each of the children she’s referred has left their own impact on her, but one stands out in her memory as a particularly special one – the first child for whom she granted a wish. The experience she had with this child helped “mold her” as not only a Make-A-Wish volunteer and referral source, but a medical professional as well, as her eyes were opened to the selflessness of the children she treats every day.

“He was a child with epilepsy and he wished to go to Disney,” Jackie said. “I remembered him saying something about liking cars, so I asked him if there was anything else he’d like to wish for besides that. But he insisted on Disney because he wanted his siblings and his parents to come with so they could be happy … I really took that to heart.”

Jackie said if there’s anyone who works with or knows children with critical illnesses and hasn’t referred them to Make-A-Wish yet, she’d be glad to tell them more about the organization and the life-changing power of a wish. She would tell them to visit the Make-A-Wish website to learn about what qualifies a child for a wish, or even call the Make-A-Wish Illinois office and ask a staff member about the process.

“It’s not just a foundation for kids with cancer or terminally ill kids,” Jackie said. “Some people are nervous or hesitant to refer a child because they think that’s the case, but they don’t have to be.”

For her commitment to helping her patients and the general public understand that many conditions in addition to cancer can qualify a child for a wish, and that wishes can be an important part of the plan of care for patients, Jackie was recently recognized with a Women & Wishes award as an outstanding medical partner.

PHOTO: Val Warner, co-host of WINDY CITY LIVE on ABC 7 Chicago and Anna Nannicelli, the 2017 Women & Wishes Award honoree present Jackie Wolack with the 2018 Women & Wishes Award at Spaiggia on June 20, 2018. (photo by Bill Richert)

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