Volunteers bring the outdoors to Denton boy, 12, whose medical conditions keep him inside

·3 min read

To a casual observer, the back porch of the Westbrooks’ two-story Denton home looks like any other. The pale yellow siding and white trimmed windows blend with the rest of the structure.

Inside, however, is where the magic happens.

Nathan Westbrook, 12, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was 5. He is in remission now, but Down syndrome and non-verbal autism add to his medical challenges. Like most children he enjoys the outdoors, but his weakened immune system and lack of safety awareness makes outdoor play potentially dangerous.

On Friday a Fort Worth nonprofit brought a piece of the outdoors to Nathan in the form of a fully enclosed sensory porch, complete with a brightly colored swing, an LED cloud with music, and a sand and water table. A wooden glider sits in one corner across from a small trampoline and screened windows give a full view of the yard.

Nathan’s mom Melissa Westbrook said the porch provides freedom for Nathan.

“This means he can be in a safe space and have things to play with and things he loves,” she said.

A Wish With Wings has been making the desires of Texas children with life-threatening medical conditions a reality since 1982.

Clarissa Patiño, A Wish With Wings program director, said the wishes give the children and their families a sense of hope.

“It just gives them something to hang onto so they can get through the next appointment and the next procedure, the next surgery,” she said.

Cook Children’s referred Nathan’s family to A Wish With Wings in early 2020, but COVID-19 entered the scene and plans for Nathan’s porch had to be put on hold.

Melissa Westbrook said the finished product was “totally worth the wait.”

“This is beyond our expectations completely,” she said. “They really went out and did an amazing job and we’re really overwhelmed.”

To make Nathan’s sensory porch a reality, A Wish With Wings partnered with several organizations, including construction firm Christman Facility Solutions. Kelly Bradbury, Christman’s service director, and A Wish With Wings volunteer John Hoover coordinated the project.

Bradbury said they envisioned something the whole family would enjoy.

“We really wanted this to be an outdoor living area for them,” Bradbury said. “And so we built in a banquette seating area — kitchen table basically, so that they can come in and sit and have a family meal out here in the air.”

Friday was the first time Nathan had seen the finished porch. He and his family came out their back door into the porch area a few minutes after noon.

“Whoaaa,” was the first word out of Nathan’s father, Max Westbrook, and for the next several minutes the family explored the new area. Nathan’s brother Graham lay down on the sensory swing while his sister Hannah and Max tried out the glider. Melissa showed Nathan how the water table worked.

Hoover, the Wish With Wings volunteer, said he had to deal with supply chain delays and the rising cost of construction materials, but in the end the porch turned out better than he could have imagined.

“All kinds of stuff that we had ... to get past and we still were able to deliver so it was a tough one, but it turned out really well,” Hoover said.

Now that Nathan has his porch, Patiño said they will continue to keep in touch with Nathan and his family and invite them to the activities they host for their wish families throughout the year.

“We’re just excited that it’s done and they can enjoy it now,” she said.