Isabella's wish granted through Make-A-Wish Foundation

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From left, Isabella Auer and Jackie Marker are seated in preparation for a tea party held in Isabella's honor at Thornewood Castle. The castle is a 500-year-old Tudor Gothic historic site located in Lakewood, Wash. The event was funded through money raised by the Asbury Eagles Club 4458 and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is on a mission to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. The foundation, which began in 1981, is the largest wish-granting organization in the world. Make-A-Wish serves every community in the United States and its territories through 60 chapters nationwide. The foundation has granted more than 315,000 wishes since its inception, averaging a wish granted every 34 minutes. There are nearly 40,000 volunteers who help grant wishes each year. 

Make-A-Wish Iowa

Donna Kuhlman, a 10-year volunteer with the Dubuque area Make-A-Wish Foundation, told The Press, "Our Dubuque chapter serves most of Northeast Iowa. The Iowa chapter of Make-A-Wish serves all 99 counties. On average, a wish in Iowa is granted every other day." 

Asbury Eagles Club 4458

The Asbury Eagles Club 4458 has been involved with the Dubuque Make-A-Wish Foundation for the past five years. A spokesperson for the club explained, "We used to donate money at the national level. About five years ago we decided to keep the money we raised and donate locally." 

The Eagles Club members raised enough money through their chicken dinner fundraisers to grant Isabella Auer, a cancer patient who resides with her family in Dubuque, with her wish. 

The Make-A-Wish event was held on Sunday, July 14, at the Asbury Fire Department, and was hosted by the Eagles Club. The group tastefully decorated the space and provided much of the food for the event. 

The cake balls, cupcakes, cake, table decorations, floral arrangements, music and Isabella's dress were all compliments of various Dubuque and area businesses. 

Isabella's wish

Isabella and her friend Jackie, who resides with her family in Mount Vernon, Wash., have been pen pals for the past three years. The pair, both home-schooled, have never met face-to-face. Isabella's wish was to meet her long-time pen pal in person and share time together. 

Isabella, her parents, Dr. David and Misty Auer, who grew up in Guttenberg, brothers Gabriel, John Paul and Emeric, departed for Isabella's Make-A-Wish trip from the Cedar Rapids airport on July 22. The Auers stayed in accommodations at Marysville, Wash., in a home owned by Travis Arket of The Deadliest Catch, situated on an uncommercialized beach. 

During their stay the family enjoyed a whale watching tour with Island Adventures and an adventurous trip to downtown Seattle at the close of their vacation. Isabella, her family and Jackie and her mother reveled in a formal tea party held at Thornewood Castle.  The family was scheduled to visit Fort Casey State Park but chose to spend additional time with Jackie and her family instead. 

Isabella's story

Isabella was taken to the ER on Saturday, May 11, 2019, after displaying increasingly concerning symptoms: slurred speech, difficulty walking, driving, and drinking.  An MRI showed a mass in her brain and she was transferred via ambulance to the ER at the University of Iowa. She was diagnosed with a DIPG tumor.

After several weeks of radiation the determined young woman has regained her strength and mobility  and is able to walk independently, leaving behind her temporary position in a wheelchair. 

Misty shared with The Press, "Very early in our stay at the hospital we were told to get in contact with Make-a-Wish," she said.

After many other travel destinations were considered, Isabella decided the only thing she really wanted to do was meet her friend Jackie. Misty explained, "We first started hearing about Squag (aka Jackie) a few years ago when my son Gabe and Isabella discovered the life-changing news that Seton Home School had an online chess club."

Although Isabella was not particularly interested in chess, she and Jackie quickly learned after visiting online during chess matches that they had many common interests. "As they continued to learn and share more of their lives with one another, their chess messaging became more frequent. Their friendship grew and their messaging became phone calls and phone calls became FaceTime," said Misty. 

Special surprise 

What awaited Isabella and her family upon arrival at her friend's house was a dream come true. The Markers, Jackie's parents, were aware of the Auer family's love of all things "Hobbit." Misty excitedly shared, "Our van pulled to a stop and around the corner of the house came Mrs. Marker, but it wasn’t Mrs. Marker as we had met her the two days before. There was something odd.  Her feet were not strapped into sandals, or sporting flip flops, or sneakers. She was in slippers. Big, furry, Hobbit slippers!" She continued,  "She greeted Isabella, invited her to look at her feet, and informed her the slippers were her first clue." 

Unbeknown to Isabella, the Markers had transformed their orchard into the shire from the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings. "Quickly following Mrs. Marker were Jackie, her brothers, her sister, and brother-in-law, all dressed in full costume!" she said. 

Misty had secretly packed her children's Hobbit costumes, and they quickly dressed for the backyard shire. "Isabella was surrounded by all her favorite Hobbit characters," said Misty. 

Misty described the scene, "The Markers' orchard was the perfect setting for the shire. A long table was set up in perfect Hobbit style with plates marked with Tolkien's emblems amidst every Hobbit/Lord of the Rings decoration one could possibly imagine." She continued, "A few feet from one end of the table sat a smaller table with an assortment of tasty treats and Gollum's head, labeled Gollum’s Goodies.” 

Double-sided desk

Isabella and Jackie both share a love of writing. Upon learning about their upcoming meeting, Jackie began dreaming of sitting in the orchard writing with Isabella.  As soon as Isabella heard Jackie’s idea, she too began dreaming of this. Misty described the desk, “The Markers created a double- sided writing desk, fully decorated in Tolkien style. The girls would sit, facing one another, in the shire, writing, in the most beautiful of chairs, on the most beautiful of desks,” she exclaimed

In addition to the desk, the Markers erected an elfish Hobbit tent, and added a Hobbit door leaning against a tree. Several quotes and signs familiar to, and greatly loved, by the girls were scattered throughout the shire. “Solar lanterns hung from the hazelnut trees and there was no doubt – our family had not only taken a trip to Washington – we had very clearly also traveled to the shire,” she said with amazement. 

The Markers treated the group to a Hobbit-themed scavenger hunt and homemade ice cream made on the neighbor’s home-built steam powered ice-cream maker. Gabe Auer stated, “Store bought ice cream will just never be the same again.”

In addition to the ice cream treat, the illustrious neighbor gifted matching handmade leather journals to Isabella and Jackie.

The family would like to thank Make-a-Wish, Asbury Eagles Club, Thornewood Castle, Island Adventures, Alaska Airlines for their warm welcome, and most of all the Marker family for making this all possible. Misty emotionally shared, “It was hard to leave.  Harder I think for myself and for Mrs. Marker, than even for the girls. These girls are special. Wise beyond their years.” 

Isabella comforted her mother “Don’t worry Mom, Jackie and I will be fine. We still have FaceTime, and I never dreamed we’d actually meet in person or get to do all these things together. If I get sad about leaving I just have to remember having had this time together is more than I could have ever hoped for, and it’s really just a bonus.  We still have everything we had before,” she said with assurance. 

Downtown Seattle

The unfamiliarity of Seattle traffic inspired the family to travel to downtown Seattle a day early to avoid any delays on their departure for their flight home. 

They enjoyed the sights, sounds and unique topography of the bustling metropolis. They visited the famous Pike Place Market, met up with nephew Billy Auer and his girlfriend who live in the area, attended Mass and took a ride on The Seattle Great Wheel. Misty said, “One of the first emotions I had in the hospital after Isabella’s diagnosis was gratitude for all the places I have been with my sweet girl. Adding the top of a Ferris wheel overlooking Seattle and the bay to my list was pretty special and I will treasure the memory forever.”

The flight home

On the return flight home the Alaskan Airline flight crew treated the family like royalty. They inquired about the Make-A-Wish t-shirts the family wore and were inquisitive about Isabella’s story. Her father shared her story with the crew members. By the end of the flight, several of the members approached the family to share their involvement in prayer groups, and share their personal walk with The Lord. They assured the family they would pray for Isabella and her family. “I cried. People are kind.  So very kind,” Misty said. 

Isabella Auer has authored and published her first book, Daughter of Kings. The book can be purchased online at amazon.com.

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