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Stars participate in a Make-A-Wish dream come true

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

At first glance, Jared Kluza looks just like any other hockey-crazed 15-year-old, wearing a new Dallas Stars sweatshirt and flashing one of his biggest smiles of the night while having his picture taken with two of the Dallas Stars Ice Girls.

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But Jared is not like your average teenager. He has a life-threatening brain tumor, and Monday night, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he realized his dream of watching his first NHL game in person, and even dropped the ceremonial first puck before the Stars’ 3-0 victory over the Kings at American Airlines Center. 

Then on Tuesday, he observed the Stars’ practice at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter and met the players on his favorite team, including his favorite players Mike Modano and Marty Turco, for the first time.

For Jared, who flew down from his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska with his parents Chad and Amy and his younger brother Tyler, having the opportunity to see the Stars live was very exciting.

“This is awesome, it couldn’t get any better than this,” Jared said Monday night. “I’m totally stoked.”

Also with him at the game were his grandparents Jerry and Jackie Kluza, who live in Dallas and ultimately are the reason he loves the Stars in the first place.

“My grandparents are from here, so every year they send my brother and me Stars stuff, and just every year, it grew on us more and more,” Jared explained.

“Both Jared and my younger son Tyler played a lot of hockey, and my mother and father always sent Dallas Stars memorabilia back to him, and that’s how this whole thing about the Stars got started,” said Chad Kluza, Jared’s father. “And ever since then, they’ve kind of watched them, and then when this Make-A-Wish came up, it was an opportunity for him to see the Stars, plus he wanted to be able to see the Stars with his grandmother and grandfather, who kind of got him all involved with this whole hockey thing, so it’s just kind of a full-circle thing.”

The intriguing thing about Jared getting involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation is that the Kluzas still don’t know who nominated them for the program.

“I guess you have to be nominated by the doctors or the nurses on the floor,” Chad said. “It all has to do with his tumor, and the tumor has to be kind of a life-threatening thing, although maybe not necessarily terminal, but it’s inoperable and I guess that’s where the nomination began. It came as a surprise to us. We were just going about our business and all of a sudden the phone rang one night. But it’s been a lot of fun, and gosh, the Make-A-Wish people have just been great. It’s really been nice for Jared.”

A particularly big thrill for Jared was his visit to the Stars’ practice facility, where he toured the locker room and had the chance to talk to some players. 

Stu Barnes was one of the first to meet Jared and volunteered to be the tour guide through the locker room. Stu showed Jared the players’ hockey sticks and how each are wrapped personally, walked through the entire facility and work-out rooms, and of course the main locker room.

Jared was able to watch Modano and Mike Smith play a competitive game of ping-pong alongside Sergei Zubov. Jared chatted with Modano and Smith for a bit and then Coach Tippett came out to say hello.

Then Jared got to meet Turco, who joked with him about how most people screw up the puck drop, but that Jared had done his perfectly. They visited for a while and Jared got some pictures taken with some of the players.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Texas also set up the Kluzas with reservations at the Westin Galleria Hotel and arranged for the family to eat dinner Tuesday night at Medieval Times, where Jared was honored with a special ‘knighting ceremony.’ 

Then he and his family returned to American Airlines Center for a second game, taking in the Stars’ come-from-behind 2-1 Wednesday night over Anaheim, on Mike Modano Tribute Night, presented by American Airlines. 

But although Jared endures weekly chemotherapy treatments, he still feels pretty good and has kept all his hair, a fact that actually disappoints him a bit.

“I don’t have all the symptoms that everyone else does - I mean, I never lost my hair,” Jared noted. “That’s the one thing I’m bummed about, too - I would love to kind of go bald once. I never got sick, I’m just kind of a healthy kid, I just got the physical downfall of it, so it wasn’t too bad.”

Jared, who had to stop playing competitive ice hockey when he was first diagnosed with the tumor over four years ago, still sometimes plays street hockey goalie for his brother Tyler, 13, who plays for Omaha’s Junior Mavericks Bantam AA team. 

While he appears to be in upbeat spirits and noted that it hasn’t impacted his daily life too much outside of not being able to play hockey, Jared’s condition grew more serious about a year ago.

“He’s had the tumor for a long time, and it stayed dormant for probably two and a half to three years, and then all of a sudden, it started to grow,” Chad recounted. “Up to that point in time, we really didn’t even have a diagnosis, they hadn’t been able to get a biopsy. We knew he had a tumor, but it was in too dangerous a place, so with its growth, led to the biopsy, which he pulled through okay, and with the biopsy, then we were able to come up with a combination of drugs to help reduce it.”

Now, after about a year of treatments, Jared’s long-term prospects look better, but are still somewhat uncertain.

“It’s been kind of upgraded to ‘good,’” Chad reported. “He’s undergone chemotherapy once a week for the past year, and the tumor is finally showing signs of reduction. Whether or not the tumor ever will go away, we’re really not sure. Really, the chemotherapy has been in a hope to prolong the illness until maybe something else can do a better job. Right now, the prognosis is still kind of up in the air, but the chemo’s been doing real good.”

“My last one was on Friday,” Jared added, regarding his treatments. “I’m on a break week right now. Break weeks are the best weeks.”

And making the week even better for Jared has been his wish-fulfilling journey to Dallas to see his favorite hockey team and sharing it with his family.

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