Wyatt’s Journey: Thankful to be home
2020 may not have been great for too many people, but for the Haas family of Fallon, Mont., it has been an especially rough road. Family, all together around the table on Thanksgiving Day, will have a particularly special meaning to this crew.
Soon after Wyatt Haas, now 6, started kindergarten at Terry School last year he began suffering from severe headaches and vomiting. His family at first thought it was just anxiety from going to school. But then he started having vision and coordination problems. “He stopped playing and hardly laughed or smiled because his head was in constant pain,” says his mom, Corissa. Wyatt and his family, including dad, Zach, and younger brother and sister, Asher and Aspen, had just moved to Montana the year before.
On Nov. 15, 2019, they took Wyatt in for an MRI and found the devastating news – it was a brain tumor.
“We were expecting to go to Target to let him pick out a prize for being so tough and brave during the MRI,” says Corissa. “Then we got the news. I fell to the floor in disbelief and shock. We were broken. A brain tumor? Is that even real? He was five – it couldn’t be true.”
Wyatt and his mom were immediately life-flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. His dad joined them in time before he underwent surgery the next day to remove the majority of the tumor.
“It was a tumor the size of a lime right on his brain stem and his brain was filled with fluid. It explained it all, yet it was so unreal,” says Corissa. Wyatt’s first surgery began the road to recovery – but it would be a long journey.
They found out the tumor was medulloblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, on Nov. 21.
As the Haas family made plans to continue Wyatt’s treatment in Utah, they found out they had been referred to and accepted at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. “I didn’t want to go at first,” says Corissa. “It was too far away; I was closer to my family in Idaho where we were.” But something moved her to make the decision along with Zach. “I can only say I think it was God prompting me to go there.” They say it was the best decision of their lives – and what they believe saved Wyatt’s life.
St. Jude provides cutting edge research treatment for pediatric and young adult diseases, including cancer, at no cost to the patient or family. They also provide transportation for the patient and one adult. Wyatt’s kindergarten class gathered in early December to send off Wyatt with a ride on a “real” unicorn – his favorite animal – that made international news, as he prepared to leave.
In Memphis, Wyatt went through a second surgery to remove the remaining part of the tumor then began what would end up being 30 rounds of proton radiation to his brain and spine over the next six weeks. Zach and the younger kids visited for Christmas, then returned to Montana to endure heartbreaking months away from each other.
Corissa and Wyatt came home for a four week break in February, then headed back to St. Jude in March to start chemotherapy – just as COVID surged upon the nation. “That was a tough time,” says Corissa. “The protocols at the hospital were so strict. It was heartbreaking to be at a children’s hospital during a pandemic.”
As supporters followed updates on the Facebook group “Wyatt’s Journey,” funds were donated and prayers lifted up for this sweet boy who was greatly missed by his teacher and kindergarten class. Summer came to Eastern Montana but Wyatt stayed at St. Jude, enduring medical procedures grueling even for an adult.
But following four rounds of chemo that took Wyatt’s beautiful brown curls and long eyelashes, and caused neuropathy of his feet, on July 14 he was declared cancer free.
Wyatt will return to St. Jude every three months for the first two years for follow up appointments. “He is under close watch because there are a lot of late-term side effects that occur,” says his mother, “These can be anything from cognitive problems, ADHD, memory loss and other symptoms.”
As the Haas family celebrates being together, they are incredibly thankful that Wyatt has returned to his “old self,” a regular 6-year-old boy. “His neuropathy is for the most part gone and he’s back to his strong-willed self,” says Corissa. “He’s able to keep up in school and doesn’t seem to have any setbacks right now. That is really a blessing.” For now, Wyatt is back with his favorite teacher, Mrs. Kay Pisk, in kindergarten, with plans to adjust his schooling as he’s ready.
The journey has brought the Haases home, but in some ways it will continue on.
“I’m still healing, we are all still healing,” says Corissa. “We’re trying to wrap our heads around a situation we will never be able to fully grasp. Trying not to live in fear of what Wyatt’s future could look like and our future as a family – the what-ifs and what-nexts.”
As they navigate the future, the community continues to support the Haas family. Wyatt was welcomed home to the village of Fallon with a parade in his honor. At the county fair the local Stockman Bank purchased a market hog, then donated it back with the proceeds going to support the Haas family.
Joel Fuhrman, president of Stockman Bank-Terry, says, “What this family has gone through is something none of us would want to have to undergo. We just wanted to give them an extra bit of support as they return home and back to normal life.”
In November Wyatt was granted a wish through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. He wished for his very own camper so he and his family could meet up with their friends they met at St. Jude’s and go camping together. His camper was granted through Metra RV Center in Billings, and was bestowed upon him with greetings from Star Wars characters.
“Wyatt started his fifth year of life with a brain tumor, with brain cancer. Now we’ve ended it with a healthy, cancer-free 6-year-old,” says Corissa. “We’ve been able to come back home and start to get back to normal.”
In a year where nothing has been normal – this return is one everyone can be especially thankful for.