What qualifies as a critical illness?

Children living with a critical illness often miss out on a carefree childhood because they experience pain, have to deal with medication and hospital visits. But what exactly qualifies as a critical illness? Are critical illnesses always fatal? By knowing more about critical illnesses we can help more sick children regain hope through their wish.

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Criteria for classifying illnesses as critical

The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes to children aged 3 to 17 living with a life-altering critical illness. Critical illnesses are often characterized by the need for specialized medical treatment, heightened chances of mortality, and a rapid onset of symptoms or symptoms that heavily impact quality of life. Other criteria may include the need for emergency medical intervention, reliance on medical technology to survive and that major bodily functions are involved. Though critical illnesses are not limited to cancer, cancer is the most common condition affecting our wish children. 

Common critical illnesses


There are different types of critical illness from infectious diseases to genetic disorders. At Make-A-Wish, we list eleven overarching categories, each with multiple qualifying conditions a child could have which would make them eligible for a wish. These are:

  • Rheumatology
    • Autoinflammatory conditions
    • Chronic vasculitis
  • Pulmonary
    • Chronic respiratory failure
    • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Oncology
    • Tumors requiring chemotherapy
    • Status post bone marrow transplant with continued complications
  • Neurology
    • Cerebral palsy linked to life-threatening complications
    • Huntington’s disease
  • Nephrology
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Dialysis-dependent renal disease
  • Immunology and Infectious Disease
    • Immunodeficiencies with diminished life expectancy
    • Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome
  • Hematology
    • Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis
    • Certain coagulation disorders
  • Genetic disorders
    • Barth syndrome
    • Trisomy 13 and 18
  • Gastroenterology
    • Bowel/intestinal transplant
    • Liver failure
  • Endocrinology and metabolic conditions
    • Krabbe disease
    • Thyroid cancer
  • Cardiology
    • Congestive heart failure
    • Ventricular fibrillation

If you are unsure whether the condition affecting your child or a child you know qualifies for a wish, you can contact us to find out how we can help give them hope.

child in hospital bed

Navigating the emotional challenges of critical illnesses

When a child is critically ill they not only face challenges with the illness itself but they also have to navigate emotional challenges. The illness robs them of their childhood because their symptoms prevent them from being just like their peers. This stress extends to family and friends who feel powerless to help them. In between the frequent hospital visits, possibly being housebound, and medication, the emotional challenges can take a back seat. Creating hope can help relieve the emotional aspect, reducing stress.

How Make-A-Wish helps children with critical illnesses


The Make-A-Wish Foundation wants to restore a sense of normalcy, fun and wonder. The wish impact study shows that a wish allows a child to feel like themselves again and their overall health can improve after receiving a wish. That is the impact of a wish.

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Sarah Labelle
Sarah Labelle

Sarah Labelle is Digital Fundraising Manager at Make-A-Wish International, having joined the organization in 2022 after a previous mission in humanitarian healthcare. Sarah oversees new donor acquisitions and conversions through our digital channels. Additionally, Sarah manages the e-commerce side of the website, email marketing and strives to deliver a smooth donation process for all Make-A-Wish supporters.