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A Make-A-Wish recipient recalls meeting Michael Jordan, who just donated $10 million

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

NBA superstar Michael Jordan has donated $10 million to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That is the biggest donation from an individual in the organization's history. Jordan has long been involved with the group. Twenty-three years ago, he granted the wish of one of his biggest fans. Her name was Katie Dankowski. She had dreams of becoming a basketball star herself, dreams that unraveled when she was 11 years old after doctors discovered a potentially deadly brain tumor. Through the Make-A-Wish program, she was able to meet her basketball hero. And Katie Dankowski, who survived her brain tumor, is here with us today. Hello.

KATIE DANKOWSKI: Hello. How are you?

CHANG: I am so great, so excited to be talking to you. Can you just take us back to that moment 23 years ago when you got to meet MJ? Like, what do you remember about that day?

DANKOWSKI: Everything. That day was absolutely incredible (laughter). The day of the wish, they made it so special. We got to take limo rides, and they put us in this amazing hotel. Then the moment he ducked through the door - because he is that tall...

CHANG: Right.

DANKOWSKI: ...I don't think any words came out of my mouth (laughter). I was just so excited. He was just like a regular person asking me about my - you know, my basketball career and...

CHANG: Oh, my gosh.

DANKOWSKI: ...Joking around with my brother. At the end, he finally asked, you know, is there anything you want to ask? - because, again, I hadn't said two words. And all I could squeak out was, can I have a hug? And that's the picture that they got - me bawling while I'm hugging Michael Jordan.

CHANG: Oh, wow. Is he a good hugger?

DANKOWSKI: Oh, my gosh - great hugger, great hugger.

(LAUGHTER)

CHANG: Well, you have said that thinking about your meeting with Michael Jordan during your illness gave you something else to dream about and think about. Can you tell me more about that, like, what that encounter meant for you and what you were going through?

DANKOWSKI: Sure. I was 11 years old when I was diagnosed. Knowing that you have surgery and chemo and radiation and more surgery ahead of you, you know, knowing that you're going to have this wonderful gift just really gives you just something to hold on to...

CHANG: Yeah.

DANKOWSKI: ...Something to look forward to and not just for me. But, I mean, I have a little brother, and he was affected by, you know, my illness going from grandparent to grandparent and, you know, not really seeing my parents because they were always at the hospital with me. I mean, it gave him something to look forward to. And it just - it's an incredible gift.

CHANG: Can I ask, how are you feeling these days? How's your health?

DANKOWSKI: My health's doing well. My health's doing well. I'm feeling really great - had a couple bumps along the way, you know, had a reoccurrence when I was 14, but, you know, after that, I've been doing really well. You know, I still have to go through checkups. And every time that happens, it's like, OK, here we go. Let's do this again. But I've been feeling really well. Thank you for asking.

CHANG: I'm really glad to hear that. Michael Jordan - I mean, he later singled out his meeting with you in an essay, saying it reminded him about what granting these wishes was all about. So I'm wondering, what's your reaction now to hearing about his huge donation and maybe the fact that you played a part in that?

DANKOWSKI: I literally was jumping up and down in excitement and in tears at the same time. I've been in touch with, you know, Make-A-Wish my entire life. I interned through high school and college and eventually worked for the foundation. And it just made me - it took me right back to that moment when I met him in D.C. when I was, you know, 11, 12 years old.

CHANG: That is Katie Dankowski, who met Michael Jordan 23 years ago through the Make-A-Wish program. Thank you so much, Katie.

DANKOWSKI: Thank you, Ailsa, for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.