During the summer of 1998, Tammy started noticing that her 7-year-old son, Montana, had a decreasing amount of energy and was continuously losing weight. Thinking it was from all of those long baseball games her son was play in the summer heat, Tammy didn't think twice about the unusual circumstances until one evening when she felt a knot on Montana's shoulder. Worried that there might be something wrong, Tammy scheduled a doctor's appointment for the next morning where the family was reassured that everything with his blood work was normal and it could just be that Montana had a bad ear infection. Later that week, Tammy felt Montana's neck again to find it was covered in small knots, leading them to another doctor's appointment for more testing and even more uncertainty.
The next morning, Tammy brought Montana home covered in dirt from playing outside all day, to find multiple missed calls from their doctor. Before she had a chance to check the unheard messages, Tammy received a call from Montana's grandmother informing her that the doctor had been trying to urgently reach the family. Tammy immediately contacted the doctor, who told her they needed to check Montana into the hospital. When Tammy asked the doctor what time they needed to arrive at the hospital the next morning, the doctor told Tammy, "You need to get him there now!" Before Montana could change out of his filthy shirt he was on his way to the local hospital and was admitted to a hospital bed.
After multiple doctors and nurses stopped by his room, Montana looked at his crying parents and asked, “What’s happening?”
With a heavy heart his mother explained to her son, “You have cancer.”
With tears beginning to form in his eyes, Montana asked his parents, “Am I going to die?”
Tammy just looked at her son and simply said, “I don't know; only God knows. But I do know we will get you the best care.”
After a few minutes of crying, Montana looked up and asked his parents if his cousin was still outside waiting. As soon as it was confirmed that Montana’s cousin was still in the waiting, he immediately sat up, stopped crying, and said, “Ok I want to play!”
“That was the only time he cried,” explains Tammy.
Montana was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. At the time Montana was the only person in the area with the illness, which worried his parents even more. They planned to fly him to a different hospital but after a round of chemo, he was put on a ventilator and told if he left the hospital he would not make it.
"It's scary to look over to check if your child is still breathing or not. He could tell you stories of angels in his room,” Tammy explains.
One day Montana saw his mother reading in the hospital room and asked "What book are you reading?" She answered "It's a book called God Doesn’t Make Sense." Montana just looked at his mother with a mad expression and said, “Why are you reading that? God always makes sense!”
Tammy instantly put the book down and hasn't picked it up to this day.
“It was moments like those where Montana seemed to be the one to stay strong and supportive,” said Tammy.
When Montana's parents first heard about Make-A-Wish® from one of the hospital staff members, they refused to do it.
"To me it was like if I called [Make-A-Wish], they would grant a wish and then it's over. It's the end. But they explained to me it wasn't like that. It would be something nice to do for Montana and a way to give him hope in such a hard time," explains Tammy.
Before being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Montana had been sleeping in the living room, a room that’s more like the size of an office and had constant foot traffic. So when he was introduced to his Make-A-Wish volunteers and given the chance to have is one true wish granted, Montana made a wish to have his very own bedroom. Make-A-Wish and a group of gracious volunteers immediately went to work on constructing a brand new room with everything an 8-year-old boy could dream of.
Montana wasn't able to attend school due to his illness so throughout the project of building his new room, he would watch as multiple companies would come to his house to donated supplies and their services. On the days he would feel strong enough, Montana could be found in the backyard learning how to measure a frame for a window, how to level the ground with a ditch digger and much more.
“This was an unforgettable experience that was so much more than four walls being added to our home,” said Tammy.
On the day his new room was complete, Montana and his family threw a party for everyone that had helped make his wish come true.
Montana’s room saw him through some of the darkest times of his illness and helped make his road to recovery a little brighter.
In the years following his illness, Montana, who was inspired by the caring people that helped with his wish experience, gave his own time to go on mission trips, deliver Christmas presents to families who were financially strained by medical bills and he even became heavily involved in a local summer program that gives cancer patients and their families a break from the hospital rooms and doctor visits.
Montana later began his own lawn service which he used to pay for his college. After attending a nearby community college, he transferred to Texas Tech University’s pre-med program to pursue the opportunity to become a surgeon or oncologist. In the fall of 2014, Montana will begin his first year of medical school at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center at El Paso.
“I accredit our family’s journey to the wish my son had as a young boy. The wish experience gave our family something else to look forward to rather than test results. It took Montana’s mind off of missing school and it gave all of us the hope, joy and strength to get to where they are today,” said Tammy.
The family still has Montana’s filthy shirt from the day he was admitted to the hospital. With dirt all over it, the shirt has been sown into a quilt as a keepsake of the day that changed their lives forever.
** In the years since Montana’s wish, Make-A-Wish has transformed to only taking on wishes that involve bedroom makeovers.