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Remembering a son: Ride for a cure

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- On July 7, 2000 Tech. Sgt. Travis C. Hall of the 55th Security Forces Squadron's Elite Guard appeared to be the happiest man in the world. On that day, at almost 7 p.m. his first son Isaac was born. Isaac weighed seven pounds and Sergeant Hall and his family were overjoyed. 

As a proud father, Sergeant Hall did almost everything with Isaac. They played video games, went fishing, sledding and watched movies. As Isaac grew older, his father soon realized his son shared his sense of humor. When told not to play outside Isaac would respond "I'm not outside, I'm in the garage." For five years the Hall family enjoyed the energy and love Isaac brought to the family. 

However, this joy would soon come to an end in September of 2005. That was when Sergeant Hall heard something he never imagined. His five-year-old son, Isaac was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, a disease that would later claim Isaac's life. 

According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Web site, ALL is a type of blood cancer and is the most common type of leukemia in children under the age of 15. 

The Hall family immediately sought medical attention for Isaac, and after 19 days of intravenous and intrathecal treatments, as well as chemo-therapy, Isaac went into remission. In October 2005 the Hall family was able to take Isaac home. 

A little over a year later, the cancer returned and Isaac was once again battling for his life. Tears fill Sergeant Hall's eyes as he remembers this difficult time. 

When Isaac was first diagnosed with leukemia there was always the possibility he could lose his son, Sergeant Hall said. "That thought is always there in the back of your head, but you kind of push it out and hold on to hope." 

Hope is what Sergeant Hall and his family clung to while their son battled leukemia. Hope that one day their son would be healthy and would live a long and joyous life. Hope that he would survive. 

After researching leukemia and speaking to other families affected by the disease, Sergeant Hall learned that relapses are quite common. With this knowledge, he hoped and prayed that the treatment his son received would rid him forever of this horrible disease. 

Just before Christmas of 2006, the Hall family received some great news. Isaac once again was in remission. His body was completely free of leukemia cells. The Halls took Isaac home again hoping this was his final battle with leukemia. 

A smile takes over Sergeant Hall's face as he talks about his son. 

"He was easy going and a clone of me," Sergeant Hall said, "the baby photos are almost identical, his favorite movie was Napoleon Dynamite and we've watched that about 100 times." 

"He enjoyed practical jokes, when he was in the hospital he would pinch nurses with a dinosaur claw, he also had a fart machine he'd use to startle nurses with," Sergeant Hall said. Isaac was all about making people laugh, he added. 

Isaac remained free of leukemia until March of 2008 when he relapsed for the second time. However, Isaac's body responded well to treatment and in June he went into remission. In July, he received the first of two bone marrow transplants. 

Seven months later, however, the leukemia returned. 

Throughout his battle with leukemia, Sergeant Hall said his son remained upbeat. 

"During one of his bone marrow transplants he chewed on buffalo wild wings the whole time," Sergeant Hall said. "We even blew up latex medical gloves and played volleyball." 

After Isaac's second bone marrow transplant surgery he developed complications. His liver stopped functioning properly, which led to kidney failure and numerous other health problems. In November of 2008 he was admitted to an intensive care unit for a week. 

Isaac continued battling the leukemia that was ravaging his body well into December, but on Dec. 30 doctors gave the Hall family some devastating news -- Isaac wasn't getting better and they had done all they could to save him. 

The Hall family took eight-year-old Isaac home one last time where he died on Dec. 31. 

Today, Sergeant Hall takes things one day at a time. Some days are good, he said and some are bad. There are many times when he'll think of his son and smile, but that's not all Sergeant Hall has to smile about. 

On Aug. 8 in Blair, Neb., his friend and colleague Tech. Sgt. John M. Ward, non-commissioned officer in charge of the Elite Guard, participated in the Roll to the River, a 100-mile bicycle ride to raise funds for a local children's hospital in Isaac's memory. 

The event raised more than $2,000 including $900 contributed by members of the Elite Guard. The funds will be donated through Isaac Hall Memorial Charities, an organization established to serve as a legacy for Isaac. 

Sergeant Ward battled through a heat index of 108 degrees and a 15 mile-an-hour head wind to complete the ride in five hours and 40 minutes. 

Recalling the ride, Sergeant Ward said nothing would have stopped him from finishing, because he had the great inspiration of Isaac with him. 

"There was this guy who is a soccer coach at Creighton University, who had a heart attack two weeks before the ride and he was riding," Sergeant Ward said. There was also a retired 48-year- old Air Force colonel, who told Sergeant Ward he should be able to finish if someone almost 50- years-old could. 

But the ultimate inspiration for Sergeant Ward was honoring Isaac. This became most evident at mile number 73, the sergeant said, when he was battling severe fatigue and heat exhaustion. 

"I looked down at my speedometer and it said 108 degrees and 73 miles, I said to myself if I didn't commit to doing this, if I wasn't doing this for Isaac, I wouldn't finish ... at that point though I had to finish, even if I had to ride backwards I was going to." 

A veteran of numerous athletic events including seven marathons, Sergeant Ward chose to complete the bike ride to show his support for the Hall family and help spread the word about the charity that bears Isaac's name - something Sergeant Hall is extremely grateful for. 

"I'm all for anyone using Isaac's name for something worthwhile, and I was thrilled that Sergeant Ward did the 100-mile bike ride," Sergeant Hall said. 

The grueling 100-mile ride presented many difficulties, Sergeant Ward said but can't compare to the difficulties that the Hall family have faced. 

"I really didn't do anything compared to what Sergeant Hall's family went through," he said.