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Willmar, Minn., teenager's wish to meet mask maker granted

Joshua Eckhoff, center, shows pictures Friday of some of the masks he has made after learning that his wish to meet a mask maker had been granted. From left are Katie Ahlstrom, Shannon Eckhoff, Deb Gort and Sandy Hansen who were at his home in Willmar for the announcement. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

WILLMAR - A 13-year-old Willmar boy had his biggest wish granted by the Minnesota Make-A-Wish Foundation Friday afternoon.

Josh Eckhoff, the son of Trevor and Shannon Eckhoff, will get to meet a mask maker on a film set.

"I'm really happy," Josh said after he found out his wish had been granted. "I'm kind of surprised too."

In addition to meeting a mask maker on a film set, for which he is number one on the waiting list, Josh will spend four days and three nights in the city where the mask maker is working.

"This is just what I like to do," Josh said. "My dad's an artist and I just started doing it when I was younger."

Eckhoff was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome in November 2011 and has since made a full recovery. The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants wishes of not only terminally ill children, but also the wishes of children who have recovered from severe illnesses.

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is an inflammatory disorder of the skin triggered by an allergic reaction to certain drugs. It causes the body to attack itself and blister. According to Shannon Eckhoff, Josh was considered a third-degree burn victim, as his body was burning itself, both inside and out.

Eckhoff nominated her son after she found a vacation spot for sick children.

"I called the resort and they said you had to be brought there by Make-A-Wish, and they gave me the number to call," she said.

Once she had called the foundation, Katie Ahlstrom and Sandy Hansen, wish granters with Make-A-Wish, were assigned to Josh. They interviewed him, and told him he essentially had four options from which to choose - to go somewhere, have something, meet someone or be something. Josh chose to meet someone, and from there, Ahlstrom and Hansen started working to bring his wish to fruition.

"This is a new one for us," Ahlstrom said. "We've never had a child meet a mask maker, so we're pretty excited."

The Eckhoffs see Josh's granted wish as a way to mark his full recovery from being sick.

"It was a nightmare," Trevor Eckhoff said. "All we could do was wait and see, and it kept getting worse. Every time we go to the doctor now, we constantly hear that he's a miracle."

Back in November 2011, a then-11-year-old Josh had a week of a 105-degree fever, and his parents had him in and out of the clinic with blood-red eyes and swollen lips. Finally, he was hospitalized at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and transferred to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where he spent six weeks.

His lips were so burned at one point that he only had a pea-size opening, Shannon Eckhoff said. Because there is no cure and Josh's immune system was attacking itself, the family simply had to wait it out.

"You just have no idea what will happen," Shannon Eckhoff said. "All they could do was just keep him comfortable and make sure he was getting fluids and nutrients, and then we just had to wait. There are no medications they could give him for it."

Once Josh went home from the hospital, he went through a year of therapy plus had three surgeries to repair scar tissue from the burns.

Now, Josh will get to decide which mask maker he meets, and Make-A-Wish will schedule his trip according to the mask maker's schedule. About a week before he leaves for his trip, Ahsltrom and Hansen will come back to Willmar to throw a send-off party for Josh.