It was the end of Ben’s freshman year of high school when his parents started noticing him talking with a lisp and eating slower than normal. This continued to progress with other muscles getting weaker and Ben losing his ability to speak. Ben had several hospital stays and countless tests to try to better understand what was happening to him.
It wasn’t until October, on a trip to Mayo Clinic, that Ben’s family heard the diagnoses of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which is almost unheard of in a child. “We knew by then, that whatever was wrong, it was very serious and possibly fatal, but to hear ALS was devastating. It meant there was no treatment and he would die,” explains Ben’s parents, Linda and Mark, “no ‘maybe’ anymore.”
Ben was a very social kid and had an infectious laugh and big smile. He loved sports and travel and experiencing new things. All of these things were apparent as soon as his Make-A-Wish North Dakota wish granters met with him. When asked what his wish would be, there was no hesitation in wanting to meet his favorite NBA basketball player James Harden of the Houston Rockets. However, he had another special request before the planning began. Ben wanted his birthfather, who had recently come back into his life, to come with on the trip as he was from Houston and could introduce Ben to more of his blood relatives.
A plan was in place and after a wish reveal including his football team at a home game, he and his family were off to Texas. “We were treated like VIPs and really enjoyed those days,” his parents shared. He rode in a limo to attend a Houston Rockets practice and met the entire team, including James Harden. He had pictures and tours of the locker room and received several mementos including his favorite, a pair of James Harden’s game-worn, size 14 autographed shoes. Ben and his family also attended a game where they sat courtside right next to the players’ bench.
On top of his Rockets dream come true, Ben was able to meet some of his extended family in the area. It was extra special that part of his wish trip included Ben learning more about his heritage and feeling welcomed by new relatives. “It was a time to try to forget about doctors and just be a family on a wonderful vacation. It was also a great experience and a blessing to meet Benjamin’s birthfather’s family,” Mark and Linda reminisce.
Ben passed away in November 2019, just a few days after his 16th birthday. At Ben’s funeral, the Harden shoes he was so proud of, along with other memorabilia from his wish, were on display. In lieu of flowers, Ben’s family asked people to donate to ALS research and Make-A-Wish North Dakota to help make more wishes like Ben’s possible. Make-A-Wish is incredibly honored to have known Ben and love having him be a member of the Make-A-Wish family.