Photo Information

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Buddy LaFontaine meets Maj. Todd Canterbury at the Thunderbird hangar during an air show. Buddy's dream to meet the Thunderbird pilot came true through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Major Canterbury is the lead solo pilot for the Thunderbirds. (U.S. Air Force photo by Julie Ray)

Photo by Julie Ray

Boy wishes to be Thunderbird for a day

18 Nov 2004 | Martine Ramos

Matthew "Buddy" LaFontaine has wanted to be a Thunderbird since he was 3 years old. Now, at the grand old age of 9, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron Airmen, his wish has come true. Buddy was a Thunderbird for a day Nov. 12.

Buddy experienced the first-class hospitality of America's Ambassadors in Blue during a practice air show here. He was joined by his father, Matthew, mother, Dee, younger brothers Tyler, 7, and Patrick, 5, sister Leighanna, 2 and grandmother Ruth Griffiths.

Buddy and his family met with the Thunderbird officers in their red, white and blue hangar home. Lt. Col. Michael Chandler, squadron commander and Thunderbird team leader, said this is one of the best things the team does all year.

"We love this; this is what we live for," Colonel Chandler said. "It's a very special treat for us to be able to put a smile on the face of a Make-A-Wish child for a short period of time. This is a great day for us."

Two years ago, Buddy was diagnosed with a rare metabolic condition known as hyperoxaluria, a hereditary disorder that causes an excessive amount of urinary oxalate which creates a special type of stone to form in the kidney, beginning in childhood. The stones are composed of calcium oxalate and lead to kidney failure. Buddy's mother said when he first became sick, they found out he had more than 30 kidney stones.

"Dialysis doesn't work on his condition," Mrs. LaFontaine said. "His kidneys were functioning at only 20 percent." Since that time, one of Buddy's kidneys was cleaned out which brought his kidney function up to 40 percent.

After being dazzled at the Thunderbird hangar where the family amassed various Thunderbird collectables, Buddy was whisked off to meet some of the other performers. Then it was off to a communications trailer. Donning a headset, Buddy listened to the Thunderbird pilots talk to each other as they flew the show.

"That was just like being in the plane with them," Buddy said. "I had a chance to meet the Blue Angels, but I chose the Thunderbirds; they're much better."

His grandmother said she remembers holding Buddy up at his first air show when he was not quite 2 years old.

"Buddy has always been fascinated by aircraft and the Thunderbirds," Mrs. Griffiths said. "This has been the experience of a lifetime for him."

Seeing all the World War II planes and memorabilia during the practice show, Mrs. Griffiths expressed her feelings on Buddy's experience.

"World War II started when I was in high school," she said. "After college, while working for the school district, I applied and was accepted to be a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps. I decided against the military at that time, but being here at Nellis and seeing Buddy's joy makes me wish I had gone through with it."

Cathy Christ, program services coordinator for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada, escorted Buddy and his family to the base.

"This is the best part of my job," she said. "It is great to be able to watch a child as he gets his wish granted. Nellis and the Thunderbirds are the best, and I can't thank them enough for what they did."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is the world's largest wish-granting organization. The foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. Since 1980, the Make-A-Wish Foundation has granted wishes to more than 110,000 children in 27 countries.

Buddy's condition is still unsettled, and his future is uncertain, but as far as Buddy is concerned, "I'm going to be a Thunderbird pilot. This was the best thing I've ever done."