Behind The Wish - Jo Hazell
Meet Jo Hazell - an amazing Make-A-Wish volunteer for almost 5 years.
Small in stature but with a big heart, Jo Hazell felt a calling to join the Make-A-Wish Wish Force. Despite her own challenges with cancer, kidney transplants and heart attacks, Jo has been committed to seeing the wishes of Tasmanian kids come true.
Behind the Wish is our series of inspirational reads diving into the everyday superheroes involved in creating life-changing wishes.
Heart attacks, cancer, kidney transplants: nothing stops Jo
I come from a family of mum, dad and a younger sister. I’m Tassie born and bred. I am very blessed to have a good family environment and loving parents. I was diagnosed at age four with renal failure so from four onwards I have had a rollercoaster of a life.
In my 53 years, I have had two kidney transplants, several biopsies, cervical cancer, a mystery illness which was Whipple’s disease and put me in hospital for three months being fed through a tube, a stroke, two heart attacks with one resulting in a triple bypass when I was 26 and just in April last year, I had a STEMI heart attack. I got another stent so it’s just par for the course.
I was in Western Australia on the salt lake mines when I got the first heart attack. It just felt like I had really bad indigestion and was out in the mines working in the office. And I just said to the boss that I’m not feeling well, and I have a really bad case of indigestion and I think I need to lay down.
And while I was waiting for a bus to get me off the mines, I started thinking about my history and thought I should go to the doctor. In case of an emergency, I always carry a list with me of everything I have had done. And they said they need to send me into Kalgoorlie Hospital.
They found I had had a minor heart attack. They did an angiogram, and it came back and they said I need a triple bypass. I had heart surgery in Perth which was pretty scary, and mum had to come over for it. You just get through it; you just do it.
I was more scared 12 months ago when I had another episode where I just felt funny in the chest, and I knew I wasn’t right. I was at home and had to call myself an ambulance and the next thing I remember I am in the ward and the doctor’s telling me they have put in a stent because I have had a STEMI heart attack. Compared to the renal failure and the transplants, they were pretty scary too but I had always had mum around, but she died five years ago. It was tough doing it by myself. I have good friends and my Make-A-Wish friends have been amazing.
It just came out of nowhere; my health had been so good and I was in a fog the whole week in hospital and not understanding what they were telling me. I was just scared; I am in my early 50s and you think and hope you have still got 30 years left. I have a lot to do, lot to see. I am not ready to go yet. The doctors said being on medication since 4 years old, constantly in your body, it affects your whole body.
Medical journey leads her to Make-A-Wish
You get a bit over the rollercoaster. I don’t know if it’s unlucky. Maybe I have just been given this hand because I deal with it. I have turned my phrases around. Now it’s ‘enough’s enough’. I used to keep saying ‘what’s next’ and that’s sort of inviting it. So now even though I am not spiritual, I’m trying a bit of affirmation and taking each healthy day as it comes. I have never felt like giving up, I have two beautiful nephews and life is for living.
COVID has been tricky because I have no immune system. I still get on with life and enjoy life. I’ve just been to Palm Cove and had an amazing time with a couple of friends. I have got a few things planned for 2023 to do. I am not working now; I do some volunteer things like help at the Glenorchy Football Club. I hope I can get back into admin work. I haven’t worked properly for a while – my legs don’t work, and my balance is off but I still get around and my friends are accepting and forgiving. I am seeing an exercise physiologist regularly. I take baby steps.
Family, friends and love I guess are the important things to me. I am probably very humble, a positive person, happy, enjoy life, semi-social and enjoy the simple things in life. Going out for dinner with friends, or the movies or holidays with friends. I love doing things with people I care for. You got to plan things to give yourself something to look forward to.
I applied for Make-A-Wish when I was on dialysis in 2017. Three days a week for six hours a day I would have dialysis. That was s**t. It was such a negative environment. I just would say to myself I am going into work on those days. They put a large needle into your artery and withdraw the blood, which then goes through a machine. You would finish with clean blood.
It would be slow, over a five or six hour period. It’s a long time not being able to move your arm. If you flatline, the nurses must move quickly. I felt horrible after it every time. I was lucky to get my first kidney off mum when I was 15 and that lasted 30 years. Then I went into a coma so I was on dialysis and seeing how I had had cancer and kidney disease and heart disease; I thought I would approach all those charities but didn’t get any responses back.
Then a friend of mine, his son has muscular dystrophy, and he got a wish and it was on WIN TV. And I went ‘oh wow I have never heard of Make-A-Wish’. And I just fell in love with the story of that child, because I knew him personally. And I thought I wonder how you become a volunteer. So, I went online and filled out a form. Then I remember being in Melbourne and I got a phone calling saying they had my application, and they’d like to meet with me. And I said, ‘thank you but I am actually in Melbourne having a transplant’ and they said when you come back why don’t you come to the Hobart Make-A-Wish Ball. I think July I met (volunteers) Allana and Anna and the rest in history. I got on board, went to my first meeting in 2018. It just seems like I have been there forever.
Jo adds some colour to Hobart Branch
I love it at Make-A-Wish. I throw myself into it. I created the colour splash event. Nobody in the branch had heard of colour splash so I decided to create it and it’s got bigger and bigger. In 2022 it was fantastic. I used to volunteer for (AFL) super rules, and I had never been able to do a colour run because I can’t run but I thought maybe there’s other people who are like me so I thought let’s make it a walk or a crawl or a run if they want to.
So, I put the idea forward and no one really knew what I was talking about and I said, ‘this is what I needed and envisioned’ and it came together in the first year. It was 2019 and we had COVID, but we have still done three now. The last one was amazing; we got the fire brigade involved and we had face painting and hydration stations and had a coffee lady. My vision is to make it a little bit bigger next time. I can’t participate, I just oversee it, but to see the smiles on the kids’ faces and the joy and feedback I get it’s worth it.
We had a couple of wish families do it. My friends were involved in 2022 and they came up and gave me hugs and I came home coloured. I had a blue tutu on. It is about raising funds, but it’s also a team-building day for the Hobart Branch. We are all there having fun together. I am going to try and source a foam machine next time, not sure where I’ll get it, but I will try.
I am speechless, I am still dumbfounded it’s up and going. And I am proud because I never thought I was capable of this. But you never know unless you try and having a good supportive team has helped me. It’s not just me, it’s us. I pretty much put a whole year into it, but I couldn’t do it without everyone else. I just do it for Make-A-Wish and the kids. I think 2022 has been a bit different; I couldn’t do much because I had the heart attack in April – I wasn’t involved in the gala as much as I’d like to be but I did go. I felt like a princess, it was magical.
It was held at the MyState Bank Arena, where the Jack Jumpers play basketball. We had to take over the basketball court, it was made into a dance floor, and we had 640 people.
I dressed up for the first time in a long time – a nice long bluey purple dress and got my hair and makeup done for the first time since my sister’s wedding. My friend came along, and a couple of other girlfriends came as well. We sort of rocked up as guests and walking into the room there were stars and fairy lights everywhere and I felt like a princess. They did this amazing thing for (30-year volunteer) Robyn. I have never been to a ball. I don’t think anyone will be able to top it!
On a personal note, I actually danced. With my history I haven’t been able to dance for ages. That was a personal thing for me. But the whole thing seeing how hard the volunteers worked, and to raise as much money as we did was brilliant.
Wishes help kids 'reach for the stars'
I have still got wishes on the go; I have only completed two. The puppy for Grace is one I think about a lot. She is a beautiful girl from a beautiful family. Another volunteer Lyn and I went to the airport to pick up the puppy and I had to sit in the back of the car with the dog. And I’m not a dog person, as I’m a small person and dogs are usually bigger than me.
But seeing this puppy that had come off a plane and having to make sure it was ok all the way to Grace’s home and seeing Grace smile when she got it was just amazing. That was probably my best wish.
I think it was about giving her something that is hers and she’ll be able to cuddle it and have it there all the time, like a safety blanket.
If I had of had the opportunity for a wish when I was sick at 4 years old, it would have given me a real spark.
A wish just helps you to keep going, to reach for the stars and never give up. For the families to see the smiles on their kids’ faces … I know from my mum how hard it is when you have a sick child.
Seeing their child at their lowest and trying to keep their spirits up, it’s hard for the parents. I know both sides. I have seen what my mum has gone through. There probably are no words to describe the difference we make. When you go visit a family and break through the barriers and they get used to who you are, you become a part of their lives. Then they let out snippets of their life and you think ‘ooh maybe they will be interested in that for a wish’.
There was a girl who liked flamingos and I was out somewhere and got this lady to do a flamingo painting which we haven’t given to her yet. That lady did it for free for us. The anticipation gifts keep them excited, so it’s not just the wish day it’s the build-up.
Rewarding feeling when you help others
I just feel very blessed to be a part of it. I am very lucky the Hobart Branch team is a beautiful group. It didn’t sink in that there are so many people out there that are going through this and need help. I think we have 25 to 30 wish children at the moment and that’s a lot of kids.
To even impact just one of those kids and give back, that for me is what it’s about. Helping others. It’s just who I am. If I can help people I will. When I was in hospital, a lot of times I didn’t let on how much pain I was in. That’s my make up. This is how I get by, giving to others to get me by. I am not a ‘woe is me’ person.
I am very proud to be part of Make-A-Wish. It’s not an easy process to be approved to be a volunteer, they don’t just pick anyone off the street. To be entrusted to go into people’s lives and be put on wishes, it’s massive.
Wearing the Make-A-Wish t-shirt makes me feel proud and I want to do the right thing. We do get things done, sometimes it’s very hard but we make a lot of things move. I have tried to get people to become volunteers. I just tell them about what we do. How it’s so rewarding for yourself and others. I try and get our brand name out there. Now that I am involved a lot of my friends ask me what I have to do. You can be as full-on as I am or you can just be a volunteer and do what you can, it all adds up. Everyone involved makes a difference.
Even if you can’t be a volunteer, you can be a helper – like for our colour splash we don’t have enough volunteers. So, friends of vols come to turn a sausage or whatever.
I would be very sad if there was no Make-A-Wish, not just for me either. I would keep the friends I have made.
But it would be sad for the children, we need this to keep going. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself, it would leave a massive hole.
Fellow volunteers key parts of Jo's life
The Hobart Branch is lucky as Tasmanians are very friendly and are beautiful people. We all seem connected. When I went to my first meeting,
I didn’t know Robyn Moore was Blinky Bill. Blinky Bill was my childhood hero. I just felt this vibe with Robyn (pictured below) and I had this connection and wanted her to be my buddy and she has become my Make-A-Wish buddy and has become an amazing friend. They are very strong friendships in the Branch. I probably have half a dozen, maybe more, who I speak to regularly. Not just about Make-A-Wish, but about health or whatever and we do coffee and catch up. I reckon some of my closest friends are Make-A-Wish people.
We have lots on the go. We have What Women Want which is an all-women thing. We have stallholders who cater for women’s needs – such as plants, soaps, clothes, candles, whatever stallholders want to sell. We also have a high tea, so they go shopping then have high tea. That’s once a year, that’s got bigger and bigger each year.
We have a trivia night which is always good fun, which is in conjunction with Vodafone. A Bunnings sausage sizzle. The gala was massive.
Since coming back from COVID it is still a little hard. You can’t keep going back to the same people, you sort of have to be careful who we ask. But most Tasmanians and companies have been extremely giving. I notice there’s a lot more publicity on the radio now for Make-A-Wish. I think the ball has helped. The annual things we do help.
I am very blessed to be a part of it. In Hobart I am just a very small part of Make-A-Wish. Years ago, I would never talk about it but now I think my story should get out there. People look at me and say, ‘you’re fine’. Well, I am not really but I do my best.
Jo has been proudly volunteering since 2018