Jazzmin Peluchette has moved at such a fast pace that the rare disease that suddenly paralyzed and blinded her offered a teaching moment.
“It slowed me down,” the optimistic 19-year-old said, two years after the Miami Herald featured Peluchette in a holiday season Wish Book story. “The summer it happened I was working like crazy, 40 hours a week, taking classes in the summer, trying to accelerate life so quickly. This gave me a chance to think about what I want to do with my life.”
Today, Peluchette darts, with a wheelchair, to classes at Florida International University where she is a junior majoring in science and marketing with an interest in working in commercial real estate. She says she would love to also work on the financial side with companies that build high-rises on Brickell. She paused to say that she is on the mend, a Wish Book success story who hopes her achievements help others.
This holiday season, many others might feel the same way as Wish Book 2015 launches Thanksgiving week.
As the launch begins, Peluchette reflects on the summer of 2013 when she was diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, an aggressive autoimmune disorder that attacks the nervous system. That year she told the Herald, “I guess there is a bigger plan for me and I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Less than 24 hours after the disorder struck — announced by a sharp pain in her back as she was driving to FIU for her dual enrollment classes — she was hooked to life-support machines. Blinded, paralyzed and frightened, a team of doctors and nurses at Hollywood’s Joe DiMaggio Hospital consoled her. Peluchette had to relearn so many things, including breathing on her own.
Thanks to Wish Book, World Cause Foundation sent Peluchette a stander, an elliptical-like device that helps her exercise her arms and put pressure on her legs while in her dorm, and a power assist wheel to help her become more mobile on campus. The healing process, and ongoing work with her parents and a physical therapist, has done much of the rest: Her vision has restored to normal in both eyes, she has use of her hands and is not on a ventilating system.
In the coming days, Wish Book will introduce readers to others in need:
▪ Wildine Aumoithe, 12, who has dwarfism and needs to make her home more accessible.
▪ Flagami Elementary student Maykel Sosa, 11, newly arrived from Cuba, who has had to grow up fast to help his parents adjust to a new life. This will be Maykel’s first American Christmas. He has never had toys to play with and his family lacks essential household items including a bed and cooking utensils.
▪ Patrick Vixamar, 17, diagnosed with metastatic osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that affects the bones and can spread to the lungs. He lost part of his right leg to amputation. Now studying via virtual courses, Patrick would love to regain the school spirit he had while attending North Miami Beach High.
For more than three decades, the Herald’s Wish Book has shared moving stories of some of South Florida’s neediest. Readers have graciously responded with donations, job offers, messages of support and kindness.
Already, the Miami Foundation, Give Miami Day and a bake sale has helped Wish Book 2015 surpass $18,000 — even before publication of the first story.
Over the years, the stories have mirrored the social and economic climate of our community, and as a result the needs of the nominees have become more complex.
Alexandra Villoch, Miami Herald president and publisher.
“The Wish Book program has been an institution in South Florida for more than 33 years, and readers look for it year after year. It offers the Miami Herald's team of dedicated journalists an opportunity to make a difference in a very personal way, as they highlight some of the community's most compelling personal stories,” said Alexandra Villoch, Miami Herald president and publisher. “It also gives our readers the opportunity to lend a helping hand to their neighbors during the holidays. The Wish Book is tremendously rewarding for everyone involved in it.”
Last year, the Herald published 33 stories on the 162 nominees for Wish Book consideration. Readers helped more than 700 household members with $574,100 in cash and about $159,000 worth of in-kind donations. The annual campaign helped individuals find work, secure household repairs, provided a disabled-accessible van, a mobile home, a lift chair, helped build a new kitchen and offered tablets and a new bedroom set for a young boy who was seriously injured when he was hit by a car in front of his North Miami-Dade home.
Last year, the Miami Herald published 33 stories on the 162 nominees for Wish Book consideration. Readers helped more than 700 people with $574,100 in cash and about $159,000 worth of in-kind donations.
“Over the years, the stories have mirrored the social and economic climate of our community, and as a result the needs of the nominees have become more complex,” Villoch said. “More individuals require the basic needs, such as housing, employment and medical care. Fewer families are requesting a simple boost for the holiday, as was the case in the past.”
The Herald will start its rollout of more than 30 stories, this year with a boosted online presence to reach and aid many more people.
Additionally, through a new Miami Herald Charities initiative, several of this year’s Wish Book families will have their wishes granted by Wade's World Foundation, a charitable organization founded by the Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade to give back to underserved communities.
As Thanksgiving approached, Peluchette reflected on her 2013 Herald Wish Book experience and what she said then, “I guess there is a bigger plan for me and I just haven’t figured it out yet.”
Said Peluchette: “I haven’t quite figured it out yet … but I hope I was able to spread the news more about my disease and how it’s so uncommon — 1 in 100,000 have it — and there is not enough funding for it.”
Her focus is undimmed as Wish Book 2015 bows.
‘“I hope to shed some light on it so we are able to help more people than just myself,” Peluchette said. “I still can’t walk but I’m starting to regain strength in my legs. I’m able to use my hip flexors and I get in the pool every day. I’m taking five classes a week —15 credits — that’s a heavy load, but I love school. I’ve always had that drive to be on my own and didn’t let it stop me.”
Wish Book readers, the future marketing grad said, “were so sweet and so caring.”
▪ How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook @MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook