Burke’s journey through treatment for a brain tumor and the complications that came with it, including the loss of his mobility, has been a truly inspiring one. When Burke was referred to Make-A-Wish®, he instantly knew what his one true wish would be, but there was one thing he needed to accomplish first: Burke wanted to walk into his wish on his own.
Treatment, recovery and healing have been a long road for Burke, an intelligent, determined 17-year-old with a passion for video games. Throughout the trying times of his recovery from a brain tumor, Burke found solace in video games, seeing them as a virtual getaway from his battle, which began when he was in eighth grade and first realized that something was wrong.
“I was getting headaches every once in a while,” Burke shared. “We thought it was a bunch of stuff – vertigo, migraines, acid reflux… My parents wanted me to get an MRI to make sure. That’s when we found out I had a huge brain tumor.”
Doctors urged Burke’s family to get him to a hospital immediately, and he underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Afterwards, Burke was confined to a wheelchair and then relied heavily on a walker. His medical condition worsened as he developed pneumonia and meningitis, and what doctors predicted would be a two week stay turned into six and a half months spent in the hospital. From there, Burke was moved to an acute inpatient rehabilitation facility for an additional four months, before he was finally able to transition to outpatient therapy, where he has been training his body to talk, walk and eat again for the past three and a half years.
Through it all, Burke has remained strong and positive, staying focused on recovery. During the course of his treatment, video games became a vital part of Burke’s therapy. His friends would hold the controller, and Burke would use his thumbs to move the joystick. Gradually, he regained more and more dexterity.
“His discussions with his friends focused on how getting back to playing video games was part of his recovery,” said Burke’s mom, Arlette. “Playing video games is a way he feels normal. And someday he wants to use video games to help other kids who have been through what he has been through.”
When Burke found out that he qualified for a wish, he wanted an experience that would allow him to explore his passion and get one step closer to his dream – Burke wished to go to Seattle to tour Microsoft, Xbox and 343 Industries, the creators of the game “Halo”, in Seattle. Taking it one giant step further, Burke was determined to learn to walk by the time of his wish.
Thus began Burke’s journey to walk again. His upcoming wish trip provided new inspiration on the road to recovery, giving him an incredible new goal to work toward. “When I was in physical therapy, I just kept thinking that I wanted to be walking when I went [on my wish trip],” Burke said.
And that he did! “He walked every bit of his trip,” shared Arlette. “Burke walked through the airport. He walked around his hotel. And he walked in the doors of the gaming companies on the day his wish came true.”
There, Burke and his family met concept artists and got to see how they come up with characters. He played “Halo 5: Guardians” with professional gamers, and he even got to try out some new technologies and games that haven’t been released yet! “Everyone was so generous with their imaginative experiences, time and talent,” said Arlette. “They gave us an amazing, magical day that we keep talking about.”
Burke’s wish trip had a tremendous impact not only on him and his family, but also on those he met along the way on his visit. Darren Bacon, Lead Concept Artist at 343 Industries, said, “Burke is an inspiration to anyone who is in pursuit of an artistic goal and to all of us in the concept team at 343 Industries as a reminder of what brought us to art and games in our own formative years.”
As an added bonus, after his visit to the gaming companies, Burke had the opportunity to visit Project Violet at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where a team of researchers is developing a new treatment to find and treat the same type of tumor he had. “Seeing Project Violet gave me so much hope. Going to Microsoft, 343 Industries and Valve made me want to be part of making games so much more,” said Burke. “My wish is going to keep being a part of my life.”
“The last three and a half years have been built around making sure that we handle this challenge well. Our life has been built around the practical things,” Arlette said. “A serious medical condition causes so much stress for a family. Make-A-Wish took us out of that and gave us a family vacation where we didn’t have to worry about one thing. It feels really wonderful to have this experience.”