Wish on wheels: Leukemia survivor didn’t have a clue

Joel Lehman

By Joel Lehman

Managing Editor

Just
The Facts

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ST. ALBANS — After the gift of a life-saving bone marrow donation by his sister last Christmas and complete remission of his cancer, there wasn’t much that Devin Aylward could possibly ask for.

Call Wednesday’s Make-A-Wish Foundation surprise for the St. Albans resident and Burlington High School senior the cherry on top.

Orchestrated by Make-A-Wish volunteer wish granters Patty Rainville and Joe Larose and paid for through donations, Devin knew work was being done on his car, a 2003 BMW 325xi.

But as he pulled up to Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center, with family and friends watching as the hockey rink side door swung up, he couldn’t hide his surprise when seeing saw the $15,000 worth of custom improvements done to his car by Restoration and Performance Motorcars (RPM).

Devin’s family said the granted wish helped him get through his darkest days of recovery from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. But Wednesday afternoon, the tall senior basketball player, wearing red high tops, dark shades and a backwards hat, was thinking about the new jet black custom bumper — and maybe giving the car a name.

“This was super important. He needed something to be excited about,” said Devin’s sister, Mariah Aylward, 22, whose bone marrow donation saved Devin’s life. “He’s loved cars since he was little,” she added.

Devin spent the holidays in a Boston hospital recovering, and in March he went through a difficult treatment that left him feeling weak — it was on one of those dark, challenging days that Larose and Rainville delivered the news that his car would receive an upgrade.

It took a little cooperation, and a few white lies to pull off the surprise Wednesday afternoon. Larose told Devin his car wasn’t quite ready yet — but he’d have a chance to drive around and look at some local high-end BMWs. Devin arrived at Collins Perley in a powder blue BMW convertible to a waiting crowd, but he still was surprised when the doors slid open and his shiny jet-black car sat waiting behind it, with a yellow ribbon and a new chrome muffler.

“Looking forward to this saved him down in Boston,” said Devin’s grandmother, Beth Sicley, standing with his mother, Kim Aylward and step-father, Adis Piralic. “The incentive helped him. This was good incentive.”

Devin and his sister lived in Burlington, and he was scheduled to graduate in June before his illness. His family recently moved to St. Albans City, but he’ll be back at BHS this fall.

Rainville has been a Make-a-Wish volunteer for the Vermont chapter of the organization for 16 years. She said this was the first car-detailing wish she’s ever helped grant.

Larose added that the process has been a ripple effect of good will across the community. From RPM’s work on the car to Twiggs’ catering food for the family, everyone was willing to contribute to Devin’s special day Thursday.

“He was very brave and personable, always polite even when he was having a rough go of it,” Rainville said.

RPM owner Peter Markowski, who did the work along with company employee Keith Carnevale, was on hand for the unveiling. “We didn’t make it faster, but we wanted to make it look faster,” Markowski said. That work included new low-profiles tires, new rims, and a chrome muffler. The auto’s engine purred when Devin turned the ignition and confidently pulled it outside.

“I had no idea. I didn’t think it would be done until August,” Devin said to Larose afterward, joking, “Why’d you lie to me?”

He then added, “This is craziness. I didn’t even realize what was happening.”