Nonagenarian brightens lives of sick kids as Fairy Godmother

Curtis Compton / The Atlanta Journal-Constitution /

Fairy godmothers of folklore fame are magical creatures, capable of turning pumpkins into carriages and making wishes come true. At Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, 91-year-old Jackie Viener has played that role every Tuesday for seven years.

Like a fairy tale version of a superhero, the mild-mannered great-grandmother disappears into a coat closet in the hospital’s volunteer services office and emerges transformed by a pink bridesmaid’s dress, a magic wand and a tiara fashioned from pipe cleaners.

“When she arrives, she lights up the whole room,” said Chris Jones, director of volunteer services at Children’s Healthcare. “She is one of the world’s best huggers.”

In the hospital lobby, children suffering with sickness and injury gather around her, vying for attention. There they don costumes, wave wands and listen as Viener, a native of Manchester, England, reads them fairy tales about magic kingdoms and princesses and knights in shining armor.

Over the years, she has been the conduit for many secret wishes.

“I can’t grant a wish, but I can give a wish,” she says when a child asks. “There is a big difference.” Then she takes the child’s hand, touches her finger to the tiny palm and says: “You can’t see it, but there is one tiny speck of fairy dust right there. Close your hand. Close your eyes. Make your wish, but you can’t tell anybody what your wish is unless it comes true.”

And sometimes those wishes do, in fact, come true.

Just ask Dustin Fuller. He was a teenager who contracted the MRSA superbug following surgery to repair injuries from an automobile accident. He was, Viener says, “very, very, very ill; actually not expected to live.” On his 19th birthday, he went into septic shock and his heart stopped beating, but he eventually stabilized and slowly began to recover. One day he asked Viener for a wish, and he continued to improve. When the day came for him to finally leave the hospital, he asked for one more wish. Viener wouldn’t see Dustin again until a year later.

“We were doing story time at the hospital and all of a sudden we hear somebody saying, ‘Fairy Godmother, Fairy Godmother,’” Viener said. “And we looked across and there was a Marine coming toward me in full dress uniform including his white gloves, and as he came toward me I realized it was Dustin.”

“Fairy Godmother,” Fuller said, “I wanted you to see that your wishes come true.”