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Good Works: Boy's wish for a school science lab is fulfilled

The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants a wish every 40 seconds to children across the country with life-threatening illnesses.

Still, the wishes usually fall into one of four categories: I wish to be; I wish to meet; I wish to have; and I wish to go.

No so for 15-year-old Hunter Lyons-Stratchko. Instead, his wish was something to benefit others — a science lab for his friends at Rosedale Baptist School.

For those who know Hunter best, including his parents Steven and Diana Stratchko, the uniqueness of the wish didn't come as a surprise.

"I didn't think anything of it," said his mother. "Hunter has always been generous and has always given back to people."

He sits in the front row at his church and welcomes new members. He has always tried to help classmates in need. And he can put a smile on just about anyone's face, she adds.

"He's always thinking of other people," said Stratchko.

A dedication for the new science lab was held on April 20. It's equipped with everything a science class would need, including science tables, goggles, an eye wash station, microscopes, test tubes and more.

After years of illness, Hunter was recently diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, a condition the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation likens to experiencing a major power outage in cells that can eventually lead to multi-system failure. In Hunter's case, the disease is terminal.

Allyson Butler, vice president of marketing and communications for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, said more and more the organization is getting wishes from kids like Hunter, who are helping to create an emerging fifth category of wish, "I wish to give back."

"It's such a wonderful, wonderful way to share the power of a wish," said Butler.

She compares his wish to throwing a pebble in a lake and seeing the ripple effect it creates.

"It often, especially in the case of Hunter, resonates with the entire community," she added. "Everybody, the pastor, the school, his classmates, all the different partners in the community, everybody is touched by that wish."

In fact, the wish came together through a community effort and several donations.

Scott Tewell, pastor of the Rosedale Baptist Church and president of the school, said the generosity of the gift was incredible.

"That came from Hunter's heart. He's that kind of young man," said Tewell. "His heart is to help others. He's unlike any young man I've ever met."

Rosedale Baptist School, located on Route 7, provides education for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The school is constructing a new education wing where the science lab will eventually be located. For now, the lab is set up in a temporary trailer, which gave Hunter a chance to see it. The addition will be completed in October.

"For a smaller private school like ours, it just means the world," added Tewell. "Without the science lab, you're just looking at visual aids and reading books. With it, you are hands-on learning, experimenting and understanding science."

Part of the reason Hunter chose a science lab, said Tewell, is so his classmates and other students at the school could study mitochondria in cells.

When deciding what to wish for, he told his mother he wanted the science lab because it would be permanent.

"A cruise would be very nice, and I could have the pictures to always look at, but the lab would last forever and it would help my school and all the other kids later," he said. "I have my family and church; I don't want to waste my wish on something that won't last."

The disease has been hard on Hunter, who faces extreme energy fatigue, frequent seizures and extended hospital visits. His body temperature cannot be regulated, so his climate must be controlled at all times and he often can't venture outside, especially on hot summer days.

He takes 53 pills a day. And most recently has had trouble breathing and severe problems with his esophagus.

"He's been accustomed to all these things because he doesn't know any different," said Stratchko. "His disease has progressed severely. There are days when he only has about one good hour a day."

The family is facing mounting medical bills, including a large electric bill — the result of keeping the house cool and his body temperature stable.

The Stratchkos say they have relied heavily on friends, family and support services for Hunter. The church donated a special bed and held a fundraiser.

Hunter is a patient of Gilchrist Kids, part of Gilchrist Hospice Care.

Donald Hohne, its chaplain, visits weekly and Hunter's hospice nurse, Brenda Blunt, has been a godsend, said Stratchko.

If Hunter did one thing for himself, said Stratchko, it would be to celebrate his 16th birthday on Oct. 8, on the field at M&T Bank Stadium with the Ravens, his friends and family. His mother said they will likely have the celebration sooner.

To make a donation the family has set up "The Hunter Lyons-Stratchko Fund" at: Bank of America, Middle River Banking Center, MD4-632-01-01, P.O. Box 987, Baltimore, Md. 21298-8983. Attention Zachery Hedderman and account number 446020854463.

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