Sanctuary Art & Music Studio sets the stage for child’s Make-A-Wish dream

A local boy and his family learned they would be going to Disneyland in an artful and musical way.

Make-A-Wish San Diego recently revealed that Mateo’s wish would be granted during a party at Sanctuary Art and Music Studio in Sorrento Valley. It was the “perfect” spot, his father said, because the 4-year-old loves to draw and dance.

“The party was perfect for him. It involved all those things,” said Lionso Contreras, Mateo’s father. “It was really nice. Everybody had a very good time.”

Although born with Down’s syndrome, Mateo was a happy and healthy boy until last spring. He was diagnosed with leukemia in March, one month before he turned 4.

The family practically lived at Rady Children’s Hospital for the first few months after his diagnosis. Mateo underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and several blood transfusions.

“It was very frightening,” said Contreras, whose family lives in Oceanside. “I couldn’t control my emotions. I didn’t know what to think, what to say. It was the scariest thing I could experience, knowing that my kid had a life-threatening disease.”

While Mateo was in the hospital, the Contreras family learned about Make-A-Wish Foundation’s local chapter from a social worker. With some encouragement, they contacted Make-A-Wish San Diego to learn more about the local organization.

That’s when Contreras and his wife, Socorro Cruz, had an opportunity to talk about Mateo with wish grantors and describe their boy and what makes him happy.

“Mateo is joyful,” Contreras said. “He’s always playing with his siblings. He’s a very loving kid.”

Nine months after his diagnosis, Mateo is still undergoing chemotherapy. But his family is hopeful. Doctors say he is responding well to his treatment, Contreras said.

“He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s doing good,” Contreras said. “We hope he keeps improving.”

During a late November Reveal Party at Sanctuary Art and Music Studio, the Contreras family learned Mateo’s wish would be granted and the family of five would be treated to a trip to Disneyland. Mateo, his parents and his two siblings will visit “The Happiest Place on Earth” Dec. 19-24.

The love and support Mateo and his family have received from Make-A-Wish San Diego has meant more than words can describe, Contreras said.

“It’s way more than I expected anybody would do for him — outside of our family,” Contreras said. “Going to Disneyland is a great way of creating memories with him and our other two kids. This is something, especially at this time, I can’t do for him and my whole family.”

Make-A-Wish has made dreams come true for children with life-threatening medical conditions since 1980. The San Diego chapter was founded three years later to serve children and families in San Diego and Imperial counties. There are 62 chapters across the country.

Make-A-Wish San Diego grants about 200 wishes a year for children like Mateo. This year, the local organization is on track to grant 215 wishes.

“I believe we’ll reach that, maybe even exceed that,” said Chris Sichel, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish San Diego. “There’s a lot of kids in the wish process right now, more than we’ve ever had.”

On average, it takes about $8,500 to make each wish a reality.

“A wish empowers a child to dream a little bit,” said Sichel, adding that about 75 percent of wishes include travel. “Kids want to get away from what they’re experiencing. They want to be with their family.”

Contreras added, “It’s very touching that an organization like Make-A-Wish would do this for us. It’s very touching that people would dedicate and put so much time into helping us make a wish come true.”

More than 300 children in the San Diego region are diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses annually, Sichel said. There are currently 274 children in the “wish process.”

“2016 will be our largest year of wish-granting ever,” Sichel said. “We’re going to need more support from the community than we’ve ever had. The holidays is a wonderful time to give.”

For more about Make-A-Wish San Diego or to make a donation to the organization, visit