Archive for Thursday, March 21, 2002

Practical wish comes true

March 21, 2002

Erika Kuster planned to buy a laptop Monday when she entered the Best Buy store in Overland Park, but she left with a desktop computer.

Her grandmother, Freda Mahle, said the decision was typical of the 18-year-old De Soto High School senior.

"She's very practical," Mahle said. "She's going to use it when she goes to college next year."

College plans might be the last thing on the minds of many young people in Erika's situation. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, or cancer of the lymph glands, Aug. 17, 2001.

"The second day of school," Erika said.

The diagnosis and "intensive chemotherapy" that followed brought a sudden change to her daughter's senior year, Erika's mother Debbie Kuster said.

"We all want to spend extra time with our children their last year in high school," she said. "I definitely have."

Debbie expressed admiration for the treatment Erika received at Children's Mercy Hospital under Dr. Abbas Emami. When her classmates return to school after spring break next week, Erika will undergo three days of body scans to monitor the success of her chemotherapy and determine the need for further treatment.

Her senior year was far different than envisioned, but one thing remained constant Erika's academic standing. Despite her illness and treatment, Erika said she didn't miss much school since her diagnosis.

"She has good willpower," her grandmother said. "She went when she wasn't feeling well, trying to keep up that 4-point grade average."

The school was very helpful in that effort, Debbie said. De Soto High School Principal Debbie Lynn set Erika up with an older laptop computer.

So when her social worker at Children's Mercy Hospital introduced Erika to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Kansas, a non-profit organization that grants the favorite wishes of Kansans between the ages of 2 and 18 who are battling life-threatening illnesses, Erika new what she wanted.

Perhaps best known for the trips to theme parks or celebrity concerts it arranges for children, the foundation's goal is to grant the wish the child wants, Make-A-Wish caseworker Angela Malinak said.

In Erika's case, the foundation was able to provide enough money for the shopping trip to Best Buy, lunch at the Olive Garden and later forays for clothes at Nordstrom's and other stores at the nearby Oak Park Mall, Malinak said. Best Buy agreed to make the money stretch as far as possible, she said.

As her daughter walked the aisles, selecting CDs with a shy smile, Debbie said the Best Buy shopping trip would be the day's highlight.

"This has always been her store," she said. "She was so excited about coming here."

Earlier, the store's staff talked Erika out of the laptop she wanted when she entered the store. To run all the programs she wants, Erika would be better off with a desktop unit, they said.

"I'll still take it to school," was her practical and determined response. "I just won't carry it to class."

To make a tax-free donation to the Kansas Make-A-Wish foundation, call 1-800-566-WISH.

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