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Make-A-Wish fulfills dream for teenage brain cancer survivor

An avid-fishing fan, Vesey learned that this September he will be exploring the frigid waters of Alaska on a once-in-a-lifetime salmon fishing trip.

Ian Vesey (center) with Make-A-Wish volunteers Bonnie Goldsberry (left) and Eric Ewoniuk (right).
Photo by Amber I. Neate
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DICKINSON — Thirteen-year-old Ian Vesey has undergone four brain surgeries to save his life. The bright-eyed cancer fighter is now on his way to a full recovery, and Make-A-Wish North Dakota is an active part of the process of healing.

Make-A-Wish volunteers, along with Vesey’s friends and family, gathered at Pizza Ranch in Dickinson on Friday, August 19, to announce and celebrate his granted wish.

An avid-fishing fan, Vesey learned that this September he will be exploring the frigid waters of Alaska on a once-in-a-lifetime salmon fishing trip.

The surprise announcement featured some cameos courtesy of his second favorite passion — football. Players from the North Dakota State Bison football team contributed uplifting videos of encouragement that were played for Vesey. Former Bison quarterback Easton Stick, who is now a quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers, announced via video that Vesey would be going on the salmon fishing trip he asked for in an opportunity to fulfill his dream.

The last four years have been a rollercoaster of emotion, pain and fear. Just one week before his sister’s birthday in 2018, Vesey became ill. The family had gone on an adventure to Glacial National Park and he contracted West Nile Virus. It was during this time that he became so sick that he medically transferred to a hospital in Bismarck, ND, where a doctor decided to do a spinal tap and MRI on his brain.


“There was something that wasn’t supposed to be there,” Morgan Vesey, Ian’s sister said. “That’s how they found out it was a cancerous tumor.”

Morgan Vesey says her brother’s second surgery was a two-in-one, where the surgeons kept him under and put his skull cap in the fridge.

Vesey’s formal diagnosis was CNS neuro-blastoma, a primary brain tumor.

In 2018, he promptly underwent radiation and chemotherapy in a process that led to him having physical issues that required him working to relearning how to walk again. Today the young teenager receives regular physical and occupational therapy.

“Ian is doing better cancer wise, he just has to get back to believing he can do stuff for himself,” Emily Vesey, Ian’s mother, said.

Ian 3.jpg
Ian Vesey (center) and his mother Emily (left) react to Ian's Alaskan fishing trip announcement.
Photo by Amber I. Neate

Due to the COVID pandemic and Vesey’s compromised health, three years of delays and postponements would see his wish be pushed further and further away. Make-A-Wish state board member and wish granter Bonnie Goldsberry said through it all Vesey never changed or wavered from his wish.

“It was very painful for him to have to wait,” Goldsberry said. “We wanted him to know that we hadn’t forgotten about his wish.”

Over the course of waiting, Vesey received an autographed Bison football helmet, autographed fishing hat and a custom-made fishing pole. At the celebration dinner on Friday, the teen was also presented with a waterproof fishing jumpsuit and winter attire for his upcoming trip.


During the excursion, Vesey is expected to enjoy a boat tour of Alaska, as well as fishing opportunities on and offshore. A few more, unannounced surprises will await him along the way.

Vesey told volunteers he wanted to be among the bears and smoke a lot of salmon. His mother, father and sister will accompany him on the five-day dream get away.

Morgan Vesey says fishing is a shared love for her and her brother, and that she is excited to see who can catch the most salmon.

It takes a lot of work, fund raising and volunteers to make wishes like Vesey’s possible, and most Make-A-Wish requests in southwest North Dakota are funded by the Bakken Barbeque or the Dickinson Lions Club. In March, the Dickinson Lions Club raised $150,000 for wishes on the Western Edge.

Make-A-Wish volunteer Kelly Braun, who has been with the organization for 13 years, says Make-A-Wish grants about 40 wishes per year in North Dakota.

“It’s amazing to be able to provide a positive experience for a young person going through such a negative experience,” Braun said. “We try to provide a light at the end of the tunnel for them to look forward to.”

Make-A-Wish North Dakota would like to extend a special thanks to Brent Jordheim of Dakota Motors, Runnings, Pizza Ranch and the Dickinson community for helping support and grant wishes that children will never forget.

Vesey has a passion for salmon fishing and will be leaving for his trip with his family September 17.
Photo by Amber I. Neate
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Amber Neate grew up in rural Skull Valley, Arizona. Her passion of covering sports of all types, including personal favorites wrestling, hockey, rodeo and football, began at an early age.

She obtained her Associate of Arts Degree from Yavapai Community College before attending Northern Arizona University for a three-year journalism program. While at NAU, Neate worked as an Assistant Sports Editor for the Lumberjack Newspaper as well as a hockey commentator for KJACK Radio.

Gaining her experience working for a small community paper, The Wickenburg Sun, as a general news and features reporter, her love for sports and a small-town community brings her to Dickinson to cover southwest North Dakota sports.

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