By Craig Day, News 9
TULSA, Oklahoma - Make-A-Wish does awesome work, granting wishes to children facing life-threatening illnesses. One Green Country teen with a love of cars, a dream and cancer had his wish come true with the help of some caring Oklahomans.
Like father, like son, Thad and Justin Reaser love cool cars, like the ones at the Tulsa Auto Show. As more people joined Justin and his family at the auto show, he had a pretty good idea something special was about to happen, but it's a Make-A-Wish story with a twist. Justin's long road began the day after Christmas 2012, when he learned he has Leukemia.
"It was bad. It just floored us," said Justin's dad, Thad Reaser.
The cancer led to round after round of chemo, Justin's mom, Dawn, said there were too many to count. And complications kept him in the hospital for two months.
"It's pretty tough," Justin said, when asked how he was able to stay positive.
Thad said they worried about his frame of mind. Justin said he worried, and thought about how precious life is, and how easily it could be taken away. He also missed his friends at school, and hobbies, like working on old cars with dad. They've worked off and on to restore Thad's '68 Dodge Charger and an old Chevy truck for Justin.
"Kind of a father and son project and had a little fun with it," Thad said.
With cancer putting the hobby on hold, Make-A-Wish jumped into the picture, recruiting help from restoration experts and paint and body pros.
"It was a no brainer to jump in and do this project," said Patrick Hagerman, with Scotlea Hotrods.
"To actually get to do that and then hand it to them and say I did that for you, that's going to be too much," said Kenny Shanks with Glenpool Body Shop.
"He asks about the truck weekly, because he wants to know when it's coming," Thad said.
But at the auto show, things won't turn out like Justin expected. Make-A-Wish and the boys at the body shop have something else up their sleeves.
"I think he's going to be amazed," said Make-A-Wish president, Jeff Summers.
The idea started while father and son passed time at the hospital watching old episodes of the Dukes of Hazzard.
"I was sitting there watching that after about the 30th episode, and I thought, 'You know what, let's just give him the car and make it the General Lee,'" Thad said.
So, volunteers charged into action, not to restore the old truck, but a much bigger idea; turn his dad's broken down Charger, into the famous car.
"The old car needed quite a bit of work," said Shanks.
Volunteers worked more than 2,000 hours.
"It will probably be the only car I ever build that will be that caliber," Shanks said.
With a bright orange paint job, Hagerman took over. Hagerman's team turned the '68 model into a '69, just like the General Lee, cramming a two month job into a few weeks.
"Completely disassembled, barely running," Hagerman said. "Polished all the old stainless trim, made it look like new."
The classic got a new interior and a whole lot more. Hagerman has done 21 replicas of the General Lee, none are this special.
"He won't recognize the car from what it was before. I don't think anybody will," he said. "Oh my gosh, he's going to be a hero in his school."
Back at the auto show, Justin still thinks he'll see his old pickup restored, but everyone else knows differently. His dad's old car is now Justin's classic car.
"He's done forgot about the truck," Thad said.
Hagerman said, "Police will pull you over, just so they can say they've pulled over the General Lee."
"It's amazing, amazing," Dawn said.
And it's amazing how so many people devoted so much work, for a teenager they didn't know.
"I'm beside myself right now," Justin said.
It's overwhelming to know so many people care about him and his cancer battle, and that Make-A-Wish pulled off another touching moment.
"We all dream of a dream car, and he got his," Thad said.
Make-A-Wish Oklahoma grants wishes to 175 children each year, but they couldn't do it without tremendous support from the community, you can help them here.