Community profile: Amy Moritz gives back after son’s epilepsy experience to make other kids’ wishes come true
When 7-year-old Eldon Moritz was granted his special wish two years ago through Make-A-Wish to go to Disney World and to see his favorite animal, the sea otter, at nearby Sea World, wishes could be as big as the world.
These days, though, with a worldwide pandemic severely limiting travel — especially for children with compromised immune systems due to terminal or chronic illness — those wishes have to be granted closer to home.
So Eldon’s mom, Amy Moritz, decided to do her part to pay it forward and help make those wishes come true for “Wish Kids” on the Western Slope of Colorado.
She’s organizing a virtual “Walk for Wishes” fundraiser in the Roaring Fork Valley on Oct. 10, and has stepped up to help find unique ways to grant wishes on this side of the mountains on behalf of Make-A-Wish Colorado.
“Things have changed a lot,” Moritz said. “Usually, kids ask for some sort of wish trip, to go somewhere like Eldon did, to just get out of town and get away from it all. That is a big part of wanting to go somewhere.”
With travel on hold for high-risk groups, those wishes have been put on hold.
“They went back to the kids and said they could continue to wait until they can safely travel, or they can pick something else.
“What they’ve found is that kids are getting more creative with their wishes,” said Moritz — pets, horseback rides with close friends, tree houses, special handmade toys; those sorts of things.
So, Moritz now helps coordinate efforts on the Western Slope to make those wishes come true.
Four years ago, Eldon, who was 3 at the time, was diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called Doose syndrome.
In those early days up to and after his diagnosis, Eldon’s daily seizures could number anywhere from 50 “on a good day” to days when he’d have a seizure every two minutes “for hours on end,” his mother described.
“At one point, he lost most of his speech,” said Moritz, who grew up in Glenwood Springs and whose father, Bob Brokering, was a longtime physician in Glenwood.
She describes one day when Eldon was coming down from a seizure and she was holding him tight to try to comfort him.
“He started slamming his body against my chest, and I asked him, ‘what are you doing?’,” Moritz recalled. “He looked at me and said, ‘I’m trying to get back inside.’
“As a mom, that’s when I realized how bad this was for him,” she said.
Through lots of trial and error and countless doctor visits to try to find a treatment that would work, they settled on a remedy used for epilepsy patients in the early 20th century, and which is coming back into practice — the low-carbohydrate ketogenic, or “Keto” diet.
After several tweaks here and there to dial in an effective dietary approach for Eldon’s condition, they found a formula that seemed to work.
“Seven days later, he woke up seizure-free,” Moritz said, explaining that three years later doctors still consider her son to be in remission, but not cured.
On a warm fall morning at Gregory Park in West Glenwood, Eldon looks to be a normal 7-year-old boy.
“Look, a plane,” he says, pointing to a small plane flying overhead as a reporter talks to his mom.
“That might be dad,” he suggests, referring to his father, Ian Moritz, who owns an energy systems business locally and happens to be a pilot.
After answering a few quick questions, it’s off for a little play time before he heads back to class at nearby Two Rivers Community School.
On their journey to help Eldon be seizure free, and in working with Children’s Hospital in Denver, Moritz learned more about Make-A-Wish.
“One misconception I always had was that it was for children with terminal illnesses,” she said. “That’s something a lot of people think. But it’s not only for terminal illness, it’s also for kids with chronic illnesses.”
It turned out Eldon’s form of epilepsy qualified him to be a Wish Kid. In February 2019, he and his family, including sister Ella, got to travel to Florida to visit Sea World — where he met Dunder the sea otter — and to Disney World.
“It’s my favorite animal,” Eldon said of the sea otter.
Dunder, named after character Robert Dunder on the TV show “The Office,” did something special that day, too.
“He dropped a whisker,” Eldon said.
His keepers said it’s rare, but it happens. Eldon got to keep the whisker and take it home with him.
At Disney World, he got to meet Mickey Mouse, who happened to be celebrating his birthday, and to meet the Disney princesses.
Merida, the red-haired princess archer from Disney’s “Brave,” even let Eldon shoot her bow.
“Did she give you a kiss, too?” mom inquires. Eldon blushes a bit and admits, “yes.”
Make-A-Wish families get to stay at the Give Kids the World resort, where Eldon and his sister got to see the life-size Candyland game and dance with the characters.
“It’s great for kids who’ve had a piece of childhood taken from them,” Moritz said. “It’s all about them, with fun and games and no worries.
The whole experience provides kids with the inspiration to heal, and just gives them something special.”
As with many Make-A-Wish families, the experience resonated with Moritz.
“Everything they do is amazing,” she said. “Giving kids, their families, even siblings, a chance to have no worries, no stress, no strain … it makes you want to give back in some way so that other kids can have their wish granted.”
Moritz wanted to help more, but many of the fundraising and speaking events were on the Front Range, so it was difficult with her and Ian being in Glenwood Springs. Still, she wrote thank-you notes to beneficiaries and things like that.
When this year’s Walk for Wishes event in Denver had to be canceled in favor of a virtual fundraiser with mini neighborhood walks around the state, Moritz decided to organize a team locally.
The “Roaring Fork Wishes” team is raising money for Make-A-Wish and plans to participate in a socially distanced walk in Two Rivers Park on Oct. 10.
Area residents can get involved by participating and walking on their own that day, or sponsoring a team walker.
“I really want to bring more awareness about Make A Wish to the Roaring Fork Valley, because we are granting wishes here and all over the Western Slope all the time,” Moritz said.
“I would never have thought in a million years that Eldon would go on a wish, until I found out he qualified for a wish with his condition.”
Wishing outside the box
Awareness is just one piece of that effort. With the COVID-19 public health restrictions in play, Moritz has joined the Make-A-Wish team in putting on their thinking caps to make wishes come true without sending children to far-away places.
She has been working with Scott Dishong, chief executive officer for Make-A-Wish Colorado, to put wish coordinators in touch with resources on the Western Slope to fulfill some of those unique wishes.
One little girl simply wanted to go for a pony ride with her sister. So, they worked to find someone in that family’s area who had horses, and put them in touch to make that happen.
Another girl had been waiting to go on her wish trip to Hawaii. Given the option to continue waiting or make another wish, she decided she wanted a horse to call her own.
If a child wanted something built for them, they could find a local contractor to make that happen.
Dishong also comes from a small community, and understands how those connections work.
“We are so excited to have Amy and her family supporting Make-A-Wish Colorado,” Dishong said. “Her Walk team, Roaring Fork Wishes, will help increase exposure for the work we do in Glenwood Springs and the surrounding area.
“The reality is that our wish kids live all over the state, so Amy’s support truly impacts kids in her community,” he said. “In a time when more kids than ever are waiting for wishes due to Covid-19, we could use a lot more Amys!”
It also helps cut costs for the organization to have point people in local communities, Moritz said.
“Instead of sending someone out here from Denver to do that work, it helps to have someone right in the community. A lot of it is just finding someone who can make that wish happen,” she said.
Bob and Terri Brokering moved to Glenwood Springs before Amy was grade-school age.
She grew up here with her siblings, brother David and sister Sara Nichelle, graduating from Glenwood Springs High School in 2001 and going on to earn her music education degree at CU-Boulder.
She taught music in schools for a while before the kids came along, then took an extended break from regular teaching when Eldon became ill.
She met her husband, Ian, while he was attending Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs. He owns Colorado Energy Systems.
After moving back to Glenwood in 2008, she founded Stage Door, a summer theater program for children. That program, which usually stages a production each July involving some 75 children, had to be suspended this year due to the pandemic.
Moritz has also served on the board for Defiance Community Players, a community theater group, helped set up the music program at Two Rivers School, and teaches private music lessons.
“We’re definitely hoping to have some permanent involvement for Make-A-Wish here, fundraising and events … maybe even some wish trips,” she said.
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