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Michigan City's Liz Niemiec

Michigan City's Liz Niemiec poses with cancer patient Max Olson. His death in 2010 inspired the teenager to start The Little Wish Foundation, which has since granted more than 1,400 wishes to children fighting cancer.

Cancer victim Max Olson wanted a pet dog he could play with and care for.

He couldn't wait to name it "Chewy" after his favorite Star Wars character.

Chewy made Max incredibly happy until the Michigan City boy lost his 2 1/2-year battle with Wilm's Tumor — a rare kidney cancer.

He died on St. Patrick's Day in 2010.

That changed the life of Liz Niemiec forever.

The 2012 Michigan City grad used brave Max as her inspiration for the Little Wish Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization she founded at age 17 and of which she is the chief operating officer.

"I thought of all the kids going through the same thing. What can you do? You can't cure them," Liz said. "There had to be something."

Her foundation works with the Pediatric Oncology departments of 13 hospitals in six states, including five in Indiana, and has granted more than 1,400 wishes to young cancer victims — putting big smiles on their faces and a reason to get through the day.

Liz got some great news recently when 911 Slugfest promoters Jack and Karen Callahan announced they will donate all proceeds from their April 14 event to the Little Wish Foundation.

The annual fundraiser has Region policemen, firemen and emergency personnel from Lake and Porter counties punching it out at the Hammond Civic Center, hoping to knock each other's block off for charity.

Both men and women will be competing in some of the 13 one-minute amateur bouts.

Callahan, a former pro fighter, said 911 Slugfest had raised an estimated $100,000 for the Indianapolis chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the previous four years.

"It's emotionally taxing but, honestly, we focus on the bright side of bringing happiness and joy to these children," Liz said.

"(Wishes) are under a thousand dollars and we try to grant them soon as possible because time's crucial for anyone dealing with cancer."

Whereas Make-A-Wish distributes its funds throughout the Midwest, Little Wish Foundation solely benefits Indiana kids, according to Karen Callahan.

"You grant more wishes to more children," said Jack Callahan, adding the more expensive the wish, the fewer that are available. "It'll be a remarkable show.

"The floor has been sold out for two weeks."

And to think. One very sick boy wanting a dog to love prompted a selfless teen to change her life forever.

At age 1, Max was adopted from Russia by the Olson family of Michigan City. He attended Queen of All Saints, the same school Liz attended. She had Max's mom as a teacher, the same school Liz's mother and Little Wish Foundation CEO, Therese, taught at.

There are many touching stories and videos on the web site, like 4-year-old Justin who was diagnosed twice, and wanted "something to do and read" while getting his chemo treatments at the hospital.

Liz brought him a huge gift bag of books and games.

The parents of a four-month-old cancer patient needed a crib, so Liz purchased one.

Donations are welcome at littlewishfoundation.org

"It's a pretty cool story," said Karen Callahan.

And it's got a long list of heroes, including those who answer the 911 call and buy a ticket that night.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.

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