The parents of 13-year-old Wyatt Berkovitz have long known that their son’s future would be complicated.
Wyatt was born with a severe and complex congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which means he has three chambers in his heart instead of four. His medical journey has been grueling. He’s had two open-heart surgeries and three heart casts.
Amidst the doctor appointments and operations, his family knew that Wyatt’s condition made him eligible for a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They chose to wait until he knew exactly what he wanted. Clarity came when his older sister, Mikaylah Berkovitz, joined the Marine Corps.
A new road to a dream
Mikaylah and Wyatt have a special bond. She is nine years his senior but has long been the secret weapon behind her brother’s strength and tenacity.
“She’s smart, she’s fun, she’s crazy and she’s great,” said Wyatt excitedly in a Zoom interview with Military Families Magazine.
“Right from birth, they were just attached to each other,” said Wyatt’s father, Daniel Berkovitz. Daniel recalls rescheduling Wyatt’s early at-home medical visits to a time of day when Mikaylah would be home from school because his son cooperated better with occupational therapists when his sister was there too.
Years later, their bond remains strong as ever. When Mikaylah decided to join the Marines in 2019, Wyatt could think of nothing but becoming a Marine himself.
“I thought they were the coolest things in the world,” said Wyatt, who dreams of becoming a Marine pilot. His sister is currently a Marine Corps Air Traffic Controller stationed in Hawaii.
The reality of Wyatt’s future with the Marines is uncertain, as his health condition disqualifies him from current enlisting requirements. But, his family envisioned an alternative way for him to achieve his dream through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Making Wyatt’s dream come true
Wyatt’s family started the Make-A-Wish process at the start of 2020. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego set up an abbreviated boot camp scheduled to take place that summer, which was delayed due to COVID-19. Wyatt patiently waited two years, never wavering on his decision on how he wanted to spend his wish.
At his request, his sister Mikaylah flew in to be part of the experience.
“I wasn’t really sleeping. I was too excited,” Wyatt said, describing the night before his wish.
When he and his family got off the bus, Wyatt got an age-appropriate boot camp experience, complete with a surprise head shaving.
“They did the whole yelling at him and didn’t get into his face too much, but a little bit,” said his mom, Cameon Berkovitz. “Everybody was super helpful and wanted him to succeed and wanted him to get the full experience. It was really kind of amazing how many people jumped in and were a big part of it.”
“They let me in with open arms,” said Wyatt proudly, while rattling off all of the activities he enjoyed, including learning how to make his “rack,” climbing to the top of the rappel tower, and a mock Crucible exercise and graduation ceremony that more than 150 service members attended.
“We didn’t expect the support that we got from all the other Marines,” said Cameon Berkovitz. “Nobody forced them to come watch, and nobody forced them to help him. They just said, ‘We have this kid, whoever can show up, come be here.’ I think half of the base showed up.”
“They all treated him like he was their child,” said Daniel Berkovitz.
The base declared Wyatt an honorary Marine, an experience that also touched the service members who were part of the project.
“This was a powerful and humbling moment not only for me, but [a] reminder [of] how influential our future leaders are and the importance of the example we set,” wrote Sg. Maj. Matthew Dorsey, in a LinkedIn post, and called the experience the pinnacle of his 24 years in the Marine Corps.
The impact of a wish
The Make-A-Wish Foundation conducted a 2022 Wish Impact Survey of the families, medical providers, alumni and kids who participated in the program. The survey revealed that 75% of medical providers reported that a wish improved a child’s medical outcomes, and 90% observed children increasing their compliance with treatment after learning they would receive a wish. Meanwhile, 94% of parents reported improvements in their child’s wellbeing.
Since Wyatt has achieved his dream of becoming a Marine, his parents have noticed a difference in his behavior.
“I think the positivity has doubled, tripled or even quadrupled,” said Daniel Berkovitz. “He enjoyed every second of it, and it was a life-changing experience for him. It’s something that he’ll never forget, something that none of us will ever forget.”
While Wyatt continues to dream of flying for the Marine Corps one day, he’s already beating the odds in his daily life. He’s participating in his school’s cross country and track and field programs, something doctors never believed would be possible.
Wyatt says he gets his motivation to never give up from his sister.
“If you tell us we can’t do something, we’re going to do it,” said Wyatt. “The universe will find a way.”Read comments