Jaden Lucien woke up Sunday morning to a surprise parade outside his home that ended with a special delivery: a camper to travel to Disney.
Gustavo Martínez Contreras, Asbury Park Press
NEPTUNE — Jaden Lucien didn’t win the Super Bowl, but he knows he’s going to Disney World.
The 15-year-old woke up Sunday morning to a surprise parade outside his home that ended with a special delivery: a camper to travel to the theme park in Florida.
“I really want to go to Disney,” said Lucien standing inside his brand-new camper. “Florida is closer so I guess we’ll go there. But I still can’t believe this happened.”
Traveling has always been his dream.
Ever since he was 5 years old, Lucien said, he had set his mind on leaving Neptune to visit distant locations like national parks or even Disney World. But lifelong health challenges, combined now with COVID-19 restrictions, made his wish nearly impossible, his father, 34-year-old Jeffrey Lucien, 34, said.
Congenital kidney disease has made life an uphill battle from the start for the high school sophomore. He has been on the brink of death twice, his mother, Ashley Lucien, 32, told the Press.
In late June, as New Jersey and the nation struggled to face the coronavirus pandemic, Jaden received a much-needed kidney transplant from his mom. It has given him a new lease on life and has been the biggest blessing, his mother said.
“We always knew he was going to need a kidney since he was a baby,” Ashley Lucien said. “After years of watching your child fighting for his health, I was given the opportunity to be able to fix it.”
With their son recovering from transplant surgery, the family was contacted by Make-A-Wish New Jersey, an organization that creates life-changing wishes for children facing critical illnesses.
“You’re talking of 15 years of having your life being altered by something you were born with,” Jeffrey Lucien said. “Jaden has made the best of it, even though he’s been ill throughout the whole process. And there’s no other way he knows.”
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Jaden’s parents knew he wanted to travel.
When Jaden was told that flying was almost out of the question because of his health, he put his imagination to work, his father said.
“Jaden loves to travel, so him not being able to travel like he wanted to, even before he got the transplant, was a bummer for him,” Jeffrey Lucien said. “He tried to figure out how he could be able to travel but at the same time be safe. And he came up with the idea” of the camper, so his friends and family could be together.
The family has no immediate plans to put their new Forest River RV Wildwood FSX to use. The camper, which can be hitched to the back of vehicle, fits six people and costs, on average, about $22,000.
For the family, avoiding crowds at airports is a primary concern with Jaden’s health. The camper will allow them to avoid crowds while embarking on long road trips.
The gift was made possible by the work of the Make-A-Wish New Jersey with the support of Jersey Mike’s Subs. Founded in 1983, Make-A-Wish New Jersey has granted over 11,000 wishes to children throughout the state.
Other Shore kids have seen wishes come true recently. On Oct. 20, the New Jersey Devils made a Toms River 13-year-old, Reilly Hoagland, an honorary selection on day one of the NHL Draft.
“This is what brings our mission to life, a wish reveal,” said Tom Weatherall, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey. “And we’ve invited the community, really the fan club of Jaden, whose wish is for a camper.”
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Keeping the secret was difficult, Jeffrey Lucien said.
His youngest son, Jaxon, almost gave it away early Sunday. During breakfast he said the word parade and Jaden gave him a weird look, his dad said.
While the Lucien family got up for breakfast, family, friends and township first responders gathered at 10 a.m. at Neptune Middle School, where they decorated windows and made posters with support messages for the teenager.
“He’s a part of our family. We’ve been through his process since he was born,” said Kamala Bheli, Jaden’s aunt. “And just to see him live the life he deserves is amazing.”
Shortly before 10:30 a.m., the caravan of vehicles headed to the Lucien’s home. Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars turned on their sirens and the caravan of vehicles paraded in front of Jaden who, speechless, watched surrounded by his family.
“When I first saw it I wanted to get inside to see what it looked like,” Jaden said. “It’s cool. It’s big. It’s comfortable. I can’t still register the fact that this happened.”
As this reality sinks in, the family spent Sunday night looking at camping options at Disney, but they have no date to leave just yet.
“Since he just told us he wants to go to Disney, we’re seeing when they have openings now,” Ashley Lucien said.
For more information on Make-A-Wish New Jersey, call 800-252-WISH or visit nj.wish.org.
Gustavo Martínez Contreras covers Lakewood. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 732-643-4061.