WWE superstar John Cena granted his 300th wish to a seven-year-old Pennsylvania boy with a spinal condition, continuing his streak as the most popular celebrity granter in Make-A-Wish Foundation history.
Jonny Littman wanted to meet his hero, and the WWE accommodated that wish Monday night before an episode of Raw live from New York's Long Island. But Jonny got a bonus to his wish.
On Wednesday morning, Jonny was being interviewed on Good Morning America when Sam Champion asked him about his green T-shirt. After Jonny told him it was John Cena, Champion asked if anyone knew the WWE Superstar.
The pro wrestler and actor walked out to Jonny's surprise and presented him with another gift. This time it was tickets for him and his family to attend the 1,000th episode of the WWE show.
To put Cena's 300 granted wishes in perspective, Michael Jordan has granted around 200 and Kobe Bryant is in the 100-wish range.
"I truly give hats off to Make-A-Wish for keeping statistics," Cena said Monday before the show. "They had a nice little celebration for me at 200, and I humbly said we should do it at 1,000.
"We're just getting started," he said enthusiastically.
But Cena was clearly touched by the latest one.
"I'm just flattered completely that I could be the wish," he said.
Jonny, from Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania, has severe congenital malformation and spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. He spoke to his hero for a few minutes and took some pictures with him.
He even put on his WWE Championship belt. His mother, Ruth, says his surgeons wore it during his last surgery.
After signing T-shirts and WWE merchandise and presenting him with a videogame system, the superstar graciously walked out of the room. Cena prepared for his featured match, and Jonny and his family waited to go into the Nassau Coliseum for a live televised weekly show, Raw.
After he left the room, Jonny chanted: "Cena. John Cena. Cena."
Cena is following a WWE tradition of granting wishes. The organization grants about 140 wishes per year between requests to meet WWE Superstars or attend its live shows. The tradition started in the early 1980s with Hulk Hogan being the most requested.
And while these wishes make children with life-threatening medical conditions feel good for the moment, organizers say they also have a lasting effect.
Make-A-Wish CEO David Williams cites cases in which seriously ill children clung to life for weeks and sometimes months in anticipation of the wish. Surveys by his organization found that many doctors and nurses felt the wish had a physical benefit to the patient, and most families said a wish strengthened the entire family at a fragile time.
"They said it was a very much needed boost," Williams said.
The organization has 30,000 volunteers who help carry out the wishes. Corporations, airlines, hotels, and other donors assure that most wish requests are met.
Still, Williams said, "Every year in the US, 27,000 are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and the organization serves about 14,000. For every family that we're helping, there's a child that we are not."
As for Cena, "I know this is the entertainment business and there will come a time when I'm not requested, but I'll still be donating my time and money, I love what they do."