Beyond the Byline: One handshake I will never forget

By Bill O’Boyle [email protected]

				                                Bill O’Boyle

Bill O’Boyle

When I first met Christopher Robinson, I reached out to shake his hand.

Christopher pulled back.

When I asked the young man why he wouldn’t shake my hand, his answer was sobering.

I was at Christopher’s home to interview him and his family on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Christopher, then 14 years old, was a Wish Kid — my very first Wish Kid.

Christopher had AIDS.

He contracted the disease through a blood transfusion.

“People don’t want to shake my hand because I have AIDS,” Christopher told me.

I insisted and we shook hands.

Christopher smiled.

As was the protocol of these wish interviews, one volunteer stayed with the parents to get all the information and fill out necessary forms, while the other would interview the Wish Kid to determine what his or her wish really was.

I got to go to another room to interview Christopher,

We immediately connected and we became friends. I would hear from him when he had news. Christopher was a great kid — smart, personable good looking. He was remarkable, as I soon discovered.

Christopher died in 2000 at the age of 18, but he accomplished a lot during his very short lifetime. Christopher became an internationally known advocate for AIDS awareness.

Like I said, Christopher was a remarkable young man.

He may have lived just 18 years, but the impact he had on so many people was more than anyone living to be 100 could only hope to achieve.

In 1996, Christopher traveled to London to make educational appearances with a group from the Safe Haven Project, a Massachusetts-based organization dedicated to helping children with AIDS.

While in London, Christopher was asked to address Parliament and from what he told me, it went well. He said he was on the top of his advocacy game.

While returning to his hotel to get ready for his next appearance, Christopher learned that the House of Parliament had to be evacuated. They had found a suspicious package and protocol was to evacuate the entire building.

The suspicious package, as it turned out, was Christopher’s backpack that he had forgotten.

Christopher was embarrassed and apologized. He was quickly forgiven.

As I would tell him often, one of my Wish Kids shut down a foreign government for a day.

Christopher never slowed down. He remained focused and determined to make the world aware of AIDS and to educate them about the disease.

Christopher always was willing to answer questions, especially the toughest ones. He felt every question at every appearance helped to get his message out.

According to a Times Leader story in 2000, Christopher’s Crestwood High School classmates honored him with a moment of silence and the flag was lowered to half-staff.

“He was a model of bravery and commitment,” said then-Crestwood High School Principal James Storm. “His courage — that’s what was his greatest impact, and what’s going to remain behind.”

That’s how I will always remember Christopher — as a brave young man who decided to use his time to do all he could to educate people about AIDS.

Wish Kids are like that. They are all brave, courageous, fearless. They fight with every ounce of strength they have and they do it with a smile on their faces.

Going to their homes was never sad. Meeting the Wish Kids and their parents was, in fact, uplifting. Getting to know them and making sure their wishes were granted was the main objective.

These kids and their families so deserved a break from their daily regiment of medication, doctor visits, hospital stays, medical tests, worry, concern, stress, you name it.

Giving them the opportunity to go to Disney or to meet a celebrity or to do whatever they wanted to do was the least that should be done for them.

So some 20 years after his death, the life of Christopher Robinson lives on and his memory is forever.

Most Wish Kids wanted to meet their “heroes” — athletes, TV or movie stars, entertainers. And those meetings were fulfilling and enriching for the Wish Kids and the “heroes” they met.

But the reality is that the real heroes were the Wish Kids. They set an example for all of us to learn from and we sure did.

And I will always remember my handshake with Christopher Robinson.

He was and always will be, a hero to me.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]