Isaac Zude was a healthy, active kid who loved basketball and staying active with his friends. He hardly ever got sick, until February 2015, when his entire life changed within a matter of days.

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“The first week of February, he uncharacteristically came home from school with a headache and bloody nose – twice,” remembers Julie Zude, Isaac’s mom. “On February 5, 2015, when he was changing his clothes to go to bed, we noticed that he had unexplainable bruises all over his body. We then took him to the emergency room, where tests and blood work were done, and we were told that he likely had leukemia and would be transferred to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital for treatment.”

Isaac immediately started receiving chemotherapy weekly, and ultimately spent many of his days in the hospital. It was a stressful time for the entire family, as they were all very worried about Isaac’s health. Plus, the intensity of his treatments meant he had to sit out of some of his favorite activities, like gym class, field trips, and playing on his basketball team.

“[Isaac’s] younger siblings did not understand the severity of his illness at first,” says Julie. “We tried to keep the children involved in usual activities, but we did decline certain activities at times, as we did not want to risk exposure to infection or travel further than an hour from the hospital.”

Soon after his diagnosis, Isaac received the news that he was eligible for Make-A-Wish – a promise that gave him hope and strength throughout his treatments. His volunteer wish granters spent one afternoon talking to Isaac about his interests and his passions and eventually arrived at the heart of his wish: basketball.

“We thought Isaac’s wish would be to go to Disney World Resort or Legoland, and were surprised when he came out of his meeting with the volunteers to announce that his wish was to meet the University of Kentucky men’s basketball team,” says Julie. Over time, his interests shifted to the NBA, and his wish became to meet one of his favorite basketball players, Karl Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who played for the University of Kentucky.

Isaac’s wish was granted in January 2019, marking the end of his over three years of treatment. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish chapters in Iowa and Minnesota, the family’s entire trip was filled with unforgettable moments. From the limo ride to the Timberwolves arena, to the box seats during the game, no detail was left out in creating a special experience for Isaac.

It was meeting Towns himself, however, that was Isaac’s favorite part of the wish. “They discussed basketball and bonded over Cheetos, Fortnite, and Cartoon Network,” remembers Julie. Towns even gave Isaac a pair of shoes he had specially designed for him, two jerseys of each of the season’s jerseys: one with his name on the back, and one with Isaac’s. After the games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Towns introduced Isaac to his friend Anthony Davis, a fellow University of Kentucky alumnus. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Karl Antony Towns went above and beyond to make the night unforgettable for Isaac and our family.

Thankfully, life has mostly returned to normal for the Zude family. After completing his treatment, Isaac was able to return to doing the things he loves and is still playing basketball today. The Zude’s have also stayed involved with Make-A-Wish Iowa, giving back each year and even helping another family refer their child for a wish.

“When a child has cancer, it affects the whole family. Isaac’s wish was a great way for our family to finally travel and have fun and not worry – it gave us great joy to see him enjoy meeting his favorite basketball player,” says Julie. “We are so proud of how he handled having cancer, with an attitude of, ‘this is what I have to do to beat cancer.’ He was scared but did what he had to do, never complained, and thought of others before himself. He deserves so much for going through what he went through.”