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Eva Hoaby, outside her family's home in New York Mills. For her wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Eva wanted a real mermaid tail. The family plans to do the next best thing - take a trip to Walt Disney World to visit Eva's favorite Disney mermaid, Ariel. Submitted photo

'Praying for a miracle' for Eva Hoaby; Four-year-old's diagnosis rocks Perham, NY Mills communities

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Within days of hearing the devastating news that Josh and Ashlee Hoaby's four-year-old daughter Eva was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, individuals in both Perham and New York Mills began putting together a benefit.

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In an interview last week at their home in NY Mills, Josh and Ashlee said they are still in a state of shock, but they are thankful for the amazing amount of support from the community.

It's strengthening for the parents when strangers can look at their daughter's face and "see how special she is," Ashlee said.

Strangers probably didn't realize Eva was reading before age one. She entertained her extended family at her first birthday by searching through flash cards for the word the aunts and uncles called for. Words like 'gorilla' and 'Toyota' she could easily pick out.

Over the next year, as she learned to talk, Eva would read billboards, signs, books and everything in between.

Josh and Ashlee said all her life Eva has been above average. Even physically she did things earlier than normal - jumping in a Johnny jump-up at two months old, for example.

"She has been an amazing miracle up to this point, so I hope she continues," Ashlee said, adding that now, "we are praying for a miracle."

The problems began around Eva's fourth birthday, on Dec. 14. One eye began drifting inward whenever she tried to focus, as if she had suddenly developed a lazy eye. She also began having night terrors, waking up at all hours of the night, screaming.

On Dec. 27, Eva had a regular check-up with Perham Health's Dr. Sonja Lien. By then, Eva was having trouble balancing on one foot, something she had always done just fine in the past.

Lien ordered a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scan, but at that point it was just to make sure there was nothing wrong. The Hoabys were thinking it was Eva's vision and lazy eye causing the balance issues.

On Dec. 31, Eva had the scheduled MRI. While the Hoabys sat in a recovery room waiting for Eva to wake up, Ashlee and Josh got the call that Dr. Lien wanted to see them right away.

It was then that Ashlee knew the news wasn't going to be good, but she still thought it was something with Eva's eye.

Unfortunately, Josh and Ashlee got different news that day - the kind of news that is every parent's worst nightmare.

They were told that Eva has a brain stem tumor. Specifically, a Pontine Glioma. The stem is the part of the brain that controls automatic tendencies, like breathing. Because it is growing within the brain stem, not on the brain stem, the tumor is inoperable.

The family was shocked and devastated.

A week later, Eva began radiation treatments. She will continue the treatments five days a week for six weeks straight.

Josh said doctors are "just trying to stop it from growing," and in the best case scenario shrink it.

The Hoabys know the dire statistics regarding Eva's condition, but they both prefer to hear about the cases of success.

"I like survivor stories. I want to hear the stories of miracles," Ashlee said.

Last weekend, the Make-A-Wish foundation visited with the Hoaby family about granting a wish just for Eva.

Eva was resting on the couch during the interview, but Ashlee said her daughter told her earlier that if she could have anything, she "would ask Ariel (the Disney mermaid) if she could borrow her tail."

"I've always wanted wings, so I understand," Ashlee said of her daughter's wish.

The Hoaby family, including Eva's little sister, Lyla, is planning on visiting Ariel at Walt Disney World courtesy of Make-A-Wish.

Until then, Josh and Ashlee will continue making trips to Fargo each week, fighting for their daughter's life. And they will come back home to NY Mills on the weekends, trying to live life as normally as possible.

Without a doubt, the Hoabys said, this trial has made them realize that "the best place to live is Minnesota, especially a small town. Thank God we are here."

"We are thankful that the communities are coming together. It's nice. Supportive," Josh said.

Eva's two-day benefit will start Friday, Jan. 25 with a chili feed and silent auction at Calvary Lutheran Church in Perham. Supper begins at 4 p.m.

The second part of the benefit will be held Saturday, Jan. 26 at the New York Mills City Ballroom with a dance, live auction and barbeque from 7 p.m. to midnight. The band Cut Loose will perform.

Donations may be made to the Eva Hoaby Benefit and dropped off at any Central Minnesota Credit Union. Funds will be matched by Minnesota Masons and Thrivent.

Grandparents of Eva are Kim and Mark Wright of Perham, Pamela Mather of Perham, John and Linda Hoaby of Lisben, N.D. and Alvin Hersch of Vergas.

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