INDIANAPOLIS -- Liz Niemiec remembers seeing the little boy in the casket, his tiny hands clutching a picture of his beloved dog. That dog was the one thing that brought him happiness in the final weeks of his life.
Toward the end of Max' battle, Niemiec said, his parents knew he really wanted a dog, so despite doctors' concerns, they got him one. "I saw how happy it made him for the last couple of months of his life."
If you like dogs and kids, keep reading.
Niemiec still gets teary-eyed talking about that day, but she shakes away the sadness to focus on the good that has happened since. Because it was on that day, leaving the funeral home, that she blurted out to her mom, "I want to help kids like Max; I think we should start a foundation or something."
Niemiec's mom, Therese, could be forgiven for thinking it was a temporary fixation — that her kindhearted daughter would abandon her lofty goal in time. After all, she was just 16, too young to know what she wanted to do with her life, right?
That teenager is now 23 and a recent graduate of Butler University, where she studied nonprofit management. She devoted much of her spare time during high school and college to running Little Wish, a nonprofit she set up to grant small wishes ($300 to $800) to kids with cancer. Since graduating college, Niemiec now works for the nonprofit full-time.
For comparison's sake, Make-A-Wish, the national organization granting wishes to kids with life-threatening medical conditions, averages several thousand dollars per wish. In fact, the organization contacted Niemiec when she first applied for nonprofit status to ensure their efforts would not overlap, but as her foundation's name suggests, Niemiec is focused on little wishes.
And it's those wishes, and those kids, that keep her going.
"It's not like it's a job or anything," she said. "If you could go on a wish delivery, it's awesome. It just makes your whole day, so I always try to squeeze them in."