Make-a-Wish grants Lisbon boy fighting leukemia a Fargo shopping spree
LISBON, N.D. - Fighting leukemia has forced Isaak Hoff to miss a lot of school, but this was one day the 8-year-old didn't mind skipping class.
About 200 students and a 34-foot stretch limo surprised Isaak Friday morning outside Lisbon Elementary School in a secretly planned send-off for his Make-a-Wish Foundation shopping spree in Fargo.
Isaak thought the spree would happen in October, said his mother, Stephanie Hoff, who has watched her firstborn son lose his hair during intense chemotherapy treatments since his diagnosis six months ago.
Isaak initially wished for a four-wheeler, and when that idea was nixed, his next choice was a hot tub, his mom said. He saw the shopping spree idea on the Make-a-Wish website and was immediately sold.
"He definitely deserves it, that's for sure," Hoff said.
Isaak went to the doctor feeling ill in March and, after a series of blood tests and a bone biopsy, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. He had surgery to insert a port into his chest for chemotherapy treatments and has responded well to the drugs, with the exception of liver complications.
Most of his chemo treatments are now being done at home through shots and pills, but he still undergoes lab tests for his liver. If all goes well, he'll be in "maintenance" mode by December, down to one treatment a month, Hoff said.
"He doesn't complain about it at all," she said. "He wants to be in school and be able to work like everybody else."
Cancer hasn't slowed Isaak down at school, according to his teachers and Principal Elinor Meckle, who said the avid Minnesota Vikings fan still plays football at recess and does all of his homework even when his teachers cut him some slack.
"He wants to do well, and it's hard for him to miss school," said Jen Wangler, Isaak's third-grade teacher. "He's pushing himself."
Isaak's classmates have been "very supportive" and caring, Wangler said.
When Isaak first started missing school last spring, his classmates began filling his empty desk chair with a stuffed monkey. They brought it to physical education class and other activities, taking pictures along the way to show Isaak what he missed when he was gone, said his second-grade teacher, Chelsey Heitkamp.
On Friday, Isaak's class was kept in the dark - Wangler made sure the curtains were closed - as the kindergarten through fourth-grade classes filed out of school and crowded around the entrance for the big surprise. His father, Tyler Hoff, and mother, along with three younger siblings, were also there, as were other family and friends and members of the Lisbon Broncos football team.
Described by his teachers as a shy, quiet kid, Isaak lived up to the billing as he reacted to the cheers and chants of "Isaak! Isaak!" with a nervous look on his face. Once inside the black Hummer limo, he still didn't have much to say, other than to nod his head with a big grin when asked if he was excited about getting a PlayStation 3.
Beth Elijah, Isaak's classmate and friend, said she was excited for Isaak - even if he may not get everything he wants.
"He wanted to buy one of our goats that we have on our farm," she said.
The shopping spree was sponsored by SERVE Foundation and Operation Round Up, a program in which Cass County Electric Cooperative collects money for charity by rounding up members' monthly electric bills to the nearest dollar.
The North Dakota chapter of Make-a-Wish Foundation has granted more than 600 wishes since its inception in 1985 at an average cost of $6,000 per wish, according to a news release.
Participating stores in Fargo decorated their digs in Isaak's honor and also donated merchandise to the shopping spree.
Isaak's itinerary included stops at Walmart, West Acres mall, Toys 'R' Us, Scheels and his favorite store, GameStop, which sported purple balloons and streamers inside.
After helping Isaak pick out games, GameStop manager Scott Thompson emerged from the back of the store with a PlayStation 3.
"This is what we want, right?" he said,
"Yes," Isaak replied, pumping his fist.
"He's been having a great time," his mother said.
Later, Isaak leaned against his mom as they waited to check their items, including the video game system.
"Is this the best day ever?" she asked.
"Now I want to go play it," he said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528