METHUEN — They came bearing toys — Hello Kitty Dominoes, Hot Wheels, Transformers Rescue Bots, and Origami kits — and they were all looking for Wesley.
Sometimes he had slipped around the table to give someone a hug or was peeking into a baby carriage or playing with his two brothers, Austin and Rylan. But mostly Wesley Gangi, 9, was grinning his gap-toothed smile and thanking people for donating to Wesley’s Wishes 2013, his toy drive held Saturday in a Methuen strip mall.
Wesley, a triplet, was born more than two months premature and still has a fragile digestive system and a potentially life-threatening blood-clotting disorder, and he has only one working kidney. He has endured more than 30 surgeries and spent many months in the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.
He knows well that the hours go by slowly in a hospital bed. So he had the idea to host a toy drive for other children who get bored during hospital stays.
By the end of Saturday afternoon, hundreds of toys worth thousands of dollars had been dropped off. MacDonald Moving Services in Bridgewater donated the use of a 26-foot truck to transport them to the hospital.
“Oh, my God!” said Wesley Saturday, as some boys from his school dropped off bags of toys. “Thank you so much!
Wesley was inspired to create the toy drive after a Facebook reunion between his mother, Amy, and a high school classmate, Hallie Twomey. A few months ago, Amy Gangi read that Twomey, who now lives in Maine, was preparing to donate a kidney to a stranger.
Organ donations have played a significant role in Twomey’s life. Her father had a heart transplant a decade ago, and after her 20-year-old son, CJ, committed suicide three years ago, she and her family donated his organs.
Gangi wrote to Hallie, saying that as the mother of a boy who may eventually need a kidney transplant, she appreciated her generosity.
Then Wesley asked if he could write to Twomey, too.
He told her he could not donate a kidney because he only had one, but he wanted to help hospitalized children who didn’t have much to do. The woman he calls “Miss Hallie” encouraged him to think of a project. He came up with Wesley’s Wishes.
Twomey’s mother, general manager of a strip mall in Methuen called The Look, found an empty store where they could collect the donated toys.
Orange Leaf, a frozen dessert chain that had scheduled its grand opening in the mall on the same day, gave coupons to those who contributed.
Wesley hopes to make the toy drive an annual event, something both of his brothers, who are healthy, endorse. “It’s really cool, and a lot of people came,” his brother Austin said.
Hallie Twomey met Wesley for the first time Saturday morning, when they hugged as soon as they saw each other.
“My heart filled up,” she said. He’s just such an old soul. He said, ‘I’m not going to let you go until you tell me to let you go.’ ”
Wesley, who weighed less than 2 pounds when he was born, spent most of his first seven months in the hospital and has been back many times for his surgeries.
The hardest thing for children, he said, is all the fun they miss while they are hospitalized. “They have a lot of stuff that they can’t do,” Wesley said.
By midafternoon Saturday, Wesley’s energy had begun to wane, and he sat on a chair with his head in his hands. He receives much of his nutrition through a feeding tube, and his father, Paul, pulled up his son’s shirt and injected formula, with a syringe, through the tube.
Then Wesley was back to greeting his admirers: grinning children and their parents, groups of women, a candidate for mayor of Methuen.
“Thank you,” one woman said. “My daughter was a patient at Floating Hospital for Children, and I know just how much this means.”
Jennifer Aziz Kannan, the mayoral candidate, walked in with her entourage, all wearing matching “Team Kannan for Mayor” shirts and carrying bags of toys. “This is from our team to your team,” she said.
An Andover High graduate, Jeff Kennedy, heard about Wesley through Facebook and decided to make a documentary about him. His team was filming at The Loop yesterday.
“We usually do fashion commercials and music videos,” Kennedy said. “We thought it was time to do something with a little soul.”Kathleen Burge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KathleenBurge.