BANGOR, Maine — At 7 a.m. Thursday, Brandon Higgins and his family will be flying out of Bangor International Airport to fulfill a lifelong dream — the chance to meet some of the Boston Celtics’ top players.
The trip to Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles will be among the highlights of a trip across the country for the Brooklin family arranged by the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Maine.
The trip will be filled with “firsts” for Brandon; his parents, Louanne and Kevin Higgins and his 19-year-old sister, Ashley Higgins — their first airplane ride, first trip to California and their first visit to the All-Star event, set for 7 p.m. Sunday.
But it also might represent some lasts, Louanne Higgins, a well-known and popular administrative assistant at Brooklin School, said Wednesday during an interview at the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor, where Brandon and his parents have spent most of their time since Brandon’s diagnosis.
“It may be the only trip we get to do as a family,” she said.
A freshman at Deer Isle-Stonington High School, Brandon was diagnosed on Jan. 28 with an inoperable, cancerous tumor in his brainstem called a glioma.
The Maine-a-Wish Foundation, through its connections, has planned a weekend filled with events, some of which are going to be a surprise, spokeswoman Lisa Gleeson said Wednesday.
In granting Brandon’s wish, the foundation is picking up the tab for transportation, accommodations, meals and incidentals, including souvenirs. It also has given Brandon a digital camera so he can document his adventure.
Though his mom says Brandon is undergoing radiation treatments in the hopes of shrinking the tumor, Brandon’s prognosis is “bleak, 18 months to two years.”
Given that, Louanne Higgins said, Make-a-Wish’s turnaround for granting Brandon’s wish was mere days. Granting wishes often takes three years, she said.
“The best part is that I don’t have to handle any of the details,” Louanne Higgins said of the Make-a-Wish trip.
“It’s something Brandon can totally enjoy, and I don’t have to do the legwork,” she said. “With all the doctors appointments and daily care I am already handling, I could never manage planning this experience as well.”
Brandon’s friends are very excited for him to go to the game, and his coach has asked for a few items to be brought back, according to Gleeson. She said in a news release that when Brandon’s volunteer Wish Granters told him that his wish was coming true by giving him a printed proclamation, he held onto it for more than an hour.
On Wednesday, Louanne Higgins said Brandon’s tumor already is affecting his vision and his ability to fight off infections.
Brandon, who also has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome, said one of the downsides of his illness is that he no longer is able to get out on the basketball court, but he can still “play” via his Nintento Wii game system.
Attired in a green sweatshirt bearing the name and logo of his beloved Celtics, Brandon remained upbeat and pragmatic about his illness:
“You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” he said, quoting his 4-year-old cousin.
Brandon and his family have been touched by the level of support they have received from longtime friends, people in their community, fellow members of Christian Ridge Church in Ellsworth and other churches in the area.
Among their biggest supporters has been Judy Rountree of Brooklin, who dropped by the Ronald McDonald House with the ultimate comfort food — a huge foil tray of homemade baked macaroni and cheese sent over by Brandon’s grandmother Lois Means.
Rountree, who still bears the Southern accent of her native Georgia, also left Brandon with a piece of advice:
“I’m going to tell you what I want you to do. Do everything you can and build memories because it’s your mind’s eye that you care about, not your vision,” she said.
“Your mind’s eye is what has all these wonderful memories. Go do everything. Meet everybody you can meet,” she said, adding, “Your mind’s vision contains so much more than your eyes.”
As word of Brandon’s illness travels, fundraisers in support of the Higgins family are beginning to get under way. The next one is set for Saturday at Brooklin School.
Because such a large number of people are expected — about 500 as of Wednesday — two seatings are planned, one at 5 p.m. and the other at 6:30 p.m., Rountree said.
For information about future fundraisers or to follow Brandon’s journey, visit www.brandonsrecovery.com.
The website also has a mechanism for contributions and links to a Facebook page and other information.
For information about the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Maine, visit www.mainewish.org.