Ben Pierce just wants to see as much of the world as he can before he goes blind – and his family is scrambling with the time he has left to make the 9-year-old’s wishes come true.
“This experience has been very bittersweet,” his mom, Heidi Thaden-Pierce, tells PEOPLE. “When we first the news last fall that he is getting into the legally blind territory, it was crushing. But we wanted to focus on the positive and come up with his wish list.”
Even while the youngster is doing cane training and will start Braille training next month, his Dallas-based family – including his mom, Heidi, father, Kit, and five siblings, Christopher, 12, Moira, 11, Emiline, 7, Joseph, 5 and Olivia, 3 – are all rallying to help him fulfill his wish list of things he’d like to see before he loses his sight completely.
His creative list shared here by his family includes things like seeing the Apple store, the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forest and Los Angeles.
“We thought the Grand Canyon was impressive for a 9-year-old,” says Thaden-Pierce. “He wants to see the mountains and the desert and so we are going to do a road trip soon.”
Born at just 23 weeks and weighing 1 lb. 6 oz., Pierce’s odds of survival were small. Against the odds, he thrived, and had laser surgery in the neonatal intensive care unit to save his retinas from detaching. But now, as he experiences a growth spurt, his eyesight continues to deteriorate and he is using magnifiers to read – one of his favorite pastimes. He’s read the entire Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series and loves adventure books.
“His siblings have been having a really hard time watching him struggle with this,” Thaden-Pierce says. “They say, ‘How can we have family movie night if Ben can’t watch?’ ”
To make his wish list come true, his brothers and sisters have donated their allowances and have made truffles to sell to friends and neighbors. The family shares updates about Pierce’s condition and their latest efforts to help him see as much as he can on their website.
“They want to do something tangible to help their little brother,” Thaden-Pierce says.
After watching an episode of Dr. Who, Pierce wanted to see a Van Gogh painting of haystacks. The Dallas Museum of Art has such a painting, and made that wish come true – for free – KHOU News reports.
“We never expected Ben’s wish list would be shared outside our family,” says Thaden-Pierce. “We don’t know what we’re doing next.”