This week we profile Andre Giannico of Westbury, NY. He received his wish three decades ago and credits it as a pivotal moment in his recovery and positivity. Now, a father of two, he is chasing his life's dream: to be a WWE referee.
Tell us about your life before your wish?
I grew up in Levittown, NY, with a younger sister and brother. I was born with hydrocephalus but was not diagnosed until a couple of years later. At that time they started putting in shunts to help drain the fluid from around my brain. I was constantly in the hospital; sometimes, six months at a time. The hospital became my second home. As a family, we always tried to stay positive, but we were never sure what the real outcome would be for me, especially after so many shunts had failed. At one point I had gone blind and had muscular development issues from the pressure on my brain. I was seven years old and had 22 operations by that point. No one was sure what was ahead for me. All of this was tough on my family... my dad worked two jobs to pay the regular bills plus the hospital bills and my mom was by my bedside a lot even with two other kids at home.
When did you first hear about Make-A-Wish? What was your wish?
A nurse at the hospital reached out to Make-A-Wish and put us together. My wish was to have a giant 8th birthday party. I had never really had a birthday party before because I was constantly in the hospital.
What do you remember about the day of your wish?
I remember Make-A-Wish volunteers coming early that day to set everything up. By party time there were over 100 people in my backyard! Family, friends, and the nurses and doctors that had grown to become my family. The back yard was filled with balloons and party decorations.
At my party I had a clown, a magician, and a 55-piece marching band that played "Happy Birthday" and other songs.
Someone just recently told me they remember that on that day, I went from a kid that looked sick and was unemotional at the beginning of the party, to a kid who was overwhelmed with joy and excitement by the time the party ended. That party turned out to be greatest day of my life at that point.
What about after your wish?
The wish literally jump started my life. I realized that there was more to life than just hospitals and procedures. The power of positivity is a really strong thing and it has amazing effects on both the mind and body. From that day on it was like I never wanted to feel the "old way" again and I could do anything and conquer anything put in front of me. I always think about my wish because it was the turning point in my life.
How about your family and friends?
From that point on the mood was nothing but positive. Everyone could literally see a change in me and how my health was improving. The shunt was working and my body was becoming stronger. It was still an uphill battle but I was fighting like I never had before. That feeling has lasted to this day because I never let anyone tell me I can't do something.
Tell us about the "penny jar"...
When the birthday party was over, I had so much gratitude for what Make-A-Wish had done for me. I immediately ran into my room and pulled out a change jar. I was saving up to buy a house for me and my "girlfriend." The jar contained $37 in pennies and I gave it to the volunteer at Make-A-Wish and told them to take the money and put it towards the wish of another child so they could feel the same way that I did. The jar still remains at the Make-A-Wish offices and is a symbol to pay it forward.
What was your dream job growing up?
I lived and breathed wrestling and the WWF (now WWE) since I was 8 years old. I always wanted to do something, anything, in the wrestling business. When I was younger, I was even in the WWE magazine for a Make-A-Wish event held by WWE at Planet Hollywood. I did everything to be around wrestling when I got older. I met a local independent wrestler in 1999 and he invited me to a show he was promoting and said the company needed a referee. I volunteered for the job and that is when my reffing career started. It was not what I originally pictured myself doing, but after that day there was nothing else I could see myself doing. From that day forward it's been my goal to be a WWE referee.
What are some highlights from your career as a wrestling referee?
I learned the referee job on the fly. I learned a lot from former wrestlers Mikey Whipwreck, Paul Lauria and Mike Norman. I owe them everything for the opportunity they gave me. When the company folded I needed to find opportunities elsewhere and quickly started working for a company now known as NYWC. I worked for many independent promotions throughout the NY, NJ and CT area over the next 10 years. I stopped for a few years after my first son was born so I could spend more time with him. Then, in 2014, a friend and current WWE superstar, Curt Hawkins, opened his own wrestling school named "Create A Pro" on Long Island and asked if I would come be a referee at his shows. I thought "why not," it was close to home and my kids could come watch me perform. I still loved the business with all my heart. That sparked the drive to finally make my dream of becoming a WWE referee a reality.
Over the years I have worked with so many WWE superstars and WWE Alumni including Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, Bobby Roode, Ryback, Cody Rhodes, Joey Mercury, John Morrison, Xpac, Bobby Lashley, Tommy Dreamer, Dudley Boyz, and many, many others. The wrestling business in 2017 has been great to me. It's been 18 years since I refereed my first ever match and this year has been by far my best year! My goal is to get a tryout with WWE as a referee in 2018.
Tell us more about your life today?
Life is great! I have been married for close to 12 years and have two awesome boys, one nine, the other almost seven. They both love wrestling as well. I also coach both their baseball teams. Life is non-stop between family, baseball and wrestling... and I love it. After the first eight years of my life, I am truly blessed to have everything I have today.
What would you say to people out there about the impact of Make-A-Wish for you personally?
There is no describing the impact a wish has on a child that is just so fed up with all the medical issues they have and all that they have been through. I had to go through the bad in life to appreciate the good and never want the bad again. The power of my wish was a game changer and it jump started my life. It gave me the drive and desire to never give up and conquer anything I put my mind to and to help others in anyway I can.
Finally, what is your involvement with Make-A-Wish today?
I spoke to the hundreds of people that attended Walk For Wishes and I will continue to do anything Make-A-Wish asks of me. If continuing to tell my story to inspire others is what they need, then that is what I will do. If volunteering to speak is going to inspire others to donate their time or money, then every second I spend at an event or every world I speak is worth it. No matter how much time I dedicate to Make-A-Wish it will never be enough to thank them for what they gave me.. a new life and new hope and the belief that I can overcome anything.
Follow Andre on Twitter @Refandre123
To see Andre as a referee at a local wrestling event on Long Island, visit http://createaprowrestling.com/events.html
To donate to Make-A-Wish, visit https://secure2.wish.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=donate_now&chid=010-000