There's nothing like Christmas to make the light shine in a child's eyes. The excitement of making out the wish list, the thought of waking up Christmas morning to find presents under the tree and the joy of seeing Santa all make the holidays a memorable time for boys and girls.
Every year the Batavia Park District does its part to bring holiday joy to families by offering a variety of events, including the widely popular "Polar Express."
This year, there was a special passenger aboard the trolley at the Fox River Trolley Museum in South Elgin. With a bright smile and lots of energy to spare, Noah Lamacki appears a regular 2-year-old boy. To look at Noah, you would never guess he's battling a terrible disease.
But when Noah was just 7 months old, he was diagnosed with Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, also known as infant ALL. Throughout his short life, he's endured more than 700 doses of chemotherapy, three surgeries and countless blood transfusions and spinal taps. He receives a daily dose of chemo orally and also had a port put in his chest to administer the chemo once a month. He and his parents have spent a considerable amount of time at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Yet through it all, he remains an upbeat little boy who's enthusiastic about life and constantly has a smile on his face.
"He's just amazing," said his mom, Kate, "He's tough. He fights for his life."
Kate and Matt Lamacki of Palatine have raised a typical rambunctious boy. Noah is an energetic child who's full of life, loves to laugh and enjoys playing with cars, trucks and trains.
"He loves anything with wheels," Kate said. "His first word was 'car.'"
The family came to learn about the park district's Polar Express event through Bear Necessities, a pediatric cancer foundation dedicated to eliminating pediatric cancer and providing hope and support to those touched by it. Through Bear Necessities, Kate and Matt were able to enroll Noah in a Bear Hugs Program. A "Bear Hug" is a customized experience that brightens the life of a child going through cancer.
After finding out about Noah's love of trains, Megan Krancic, director of programs and services at Bear Necessities, contacted the Batavia Park District to see if Noah and his parents could participate in the Polar Express event being held on Dec. 11. Due to the popularity of the event, the park district already had a full roster. But when staff learned about the Lamackis request, they were more than willing to give up their own seats on the train.
The night of the event, Noah dressed in his pajamas, hopped in his parents' car, and made the ride to the Jon Duerr Forest Preserve in South Elgin.
"It was nonstop excitement for Noah," Kate said. "As soon as we pulled up and he saw the train, he was jumping up and down. It was absolutely precious.
"One of Noah's favorite parts of the event was getting to see Santa and receiving a present from him. In keeping with the story of The Polar Express, Noah received a bell. He rang the bell the entire way home," Kate said. "To watch him full of so much joy and excitement was lovely."
According to Children's Memorial Hospital, more than 13,000 children younger than 20 are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. The survival rate for childhood cancer is about 79 percent, up from 64 percent for adults. Noah's form of cancer, however, affects just 0.0003 percent of infants, which equates to approximately 200 infants a year. The prognosis is 50 percent.
On Dec. 21, Noah and his parents went to Children's Memorial Hospital for his last dose of chemotherapy.
"The doctors will monitor him closely every six weeks or so," Kate said. "Then it's just a waiting game."
In the meantime, the Lamacki family will celebrate the holidays with Noah, and they're glad they had the opportunity to experience such a wonderful event.
"We are so grateful for Bear Necessities and the Batavia Park District for the journey aboard the Polar Express," Kate said, "Seeing Noah bursting with joy gave Matt and me such wonderful memories. It was absolutely priceless."
To learn more about Bear Necessities, visit bearnecessities.org.