Tunnel Walk Leader, 6, Dies of Brain Cancer
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One of two pediatric brain cancer patients who helped lead Nebraska's Tunnel Walk entrance into Memorial Stadium before the Huskers' 30-27 come-from-behind win over Wisconsin on Sept. 29 died Sunday at Community Hospital in McCook, Neb. Funeral services for Isaiah Casillas, 6, will be Sunday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. at the McCook City Auditorium. Burial will be on Monday, Dec. 10.
"Isaiah had been in a hospice room for the past two weeks," Keith Zimmer said Monday. Nebraska's associate athletic director has remained in constant contact with Pat Casillas, Isaiah's dad, and Emily Casillas, Isaiah's step-mom. "Over the last couple weeks, Pat and I talked almost daily, and he was very proud of the courage little Isaiah showed. As everyone can imagine, wins and losses are put in total perspective when a 6-year-old is battling cancer and hanging on to some great memories he had with Rex Burkhead and his family as well as fellow cancer patient Jack Hoffman (7) and his family."
Enunwa Escorted Isaiah in Memorable Walk
Big Red football fans roared when Bo Pelini led the Huskers onto the field for that conference opener against the Badgers. Receiver Quincy Enunwa escorted Isaiah, and Burkhead escorted Jack through the Tunnel Walk. The scene will forever be etched in Zimmer's mind. "It showed Coach Pelini's compassion, his genuineness and his leadership by example," Zimmer said. "Just seeing that was one of the most touching moments of my life."
Robyn Burkhead, Rex's mom, recalled an experience a couple weeks earlier with Jack, Isaiah and Rex. "It left me speechless," she said, referring to the families congregating in the Dick and Peg Herman Student-Life Complex following the Huskers' 42-13 win over Arkansas State. The post-game get-together not only celebrated Rex winning a national award from Uplifting Athletes, but also a group of veterans honoring the two pediatric brain cancer patients for their faith and courage that inspired a football team, plus countless Big Red fans across the country and around the world.
"It was such an emotional afternoon that it's hard to describe your feelings," Robyn Burkhead said. "I was just so very proud of how my son was positively impacting the lives of others and sharing his blessings with those around him. At the same time, I was humbled and honored to be in the presence of two amazing children.
"Little Isaiah stole my heart!" Robyn said. "What a precious angel he was, giving and sharing himself with everyone around him. You could tell that he'd never met a stranger, and he loved unconditionally. He hugged everyone in the room, and what a special hug it was. It's one that I will treasure forever."
Isaiah Casillas was born on June 9, 2006, and died at 3:52 p.m. on Dec. 2, 2012.
"Isaiah was an amazing little boy. He had so much spirit," Zimmer said. "He uplifted the hearts of everyone who was trying to uplift his, and he leaves a lasting legacy for at least 47 of our football players. Because of Jack and kids like Isaiah, we formed our own chapter of Uplifting Athletes, and we're determined to do everything we can to help the cause of pediatric brain cancer - the No. 1 cancer cause of death in children."
Fans wishing to learn more about Nebraska football's Uplifting Athletes chapter can access www.upliftingathletes.org.
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Voices from Huskers around the World
Thank you for your very thoughtful story about Isaiah Casillas. Your commitment to helping us fight this disease is humbling and appreciated. There are no words to describe the heartache that our family feels for the Casillas family. Thank you for honoring Isaiah’s life with such a touching story. This past weekend was very difficult for several Nebraska families. On Friday, Sydnee Owens, 14, from Aurora, and Leya Bartels, 6, from Brady, also died from pediatric cancer. Isaiah, Sydnee and Leya’s deaths are all a grim reminder of the work that needs to be done for all pediatric cancers. Thank you for doing your part. Andy Hoffman, Atkinson, Nebraska
Forget about the wins and losses. What the players on this football team stand for off the field makes me proud to be a Nebraska fan! John Seevers, The American School in Japan, Tokyo
Thanks for sharing this heart-wrenching story. I think we all need to take a step back and realize how much time and effort the university's student-athletes put into school, athletics and community. Although little Isaiah has left our physical presence, it sounds like his spirit will live on through many of those that he crossed paths with. Branden Mathine, Los Angeles, California
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Casillas family. Isaiah's courage inspires us all. And thank you Coach Pelini, Rex Burkhead and players for your work with these special little Huskers. It's your character off the field that makes me a Nebraska fan more than any on-field achievements. Dayne Petersen, Saratoga Springs, Utah
I’m so proud that the players can make such a gift to the young people of Nebraska, especially those who are fighting terrific battles. Doris Uphoff, Elwood, Nebraska
Isaiah: You were a true inspiration to many who have heard your story. You gave us hope and you will never be forgotten. Your heart and determination are bigger than any could ever imagine. Husker Nation wishes that you rest in peace. Willie Mathews, Hamburg, Iowa
RIP LIL' HUSKER. It is an honor to be a Husker fan along beside you. Isaiah Casillas is the definition of a TRUE RED HUSKER FAN!! Earl Schrader
I am from Lincoln and I missed the results of last weekend. I wanted to catch up and did my usual "Google" search. Your story was the one I chose, and I want to thank you for capturing moments I missed before in such a heartfelt and beautifully written story. I cried from the beginning and all through the story. Well done and thank you. Kay Marti, Lincoln, Nebraska
Hearing that Isaiah had passed hit me like a ton of bricks. Since the Wisconsin game, I could not find information on Isaiah's condition. I thought I had read (on Facebook) that he was showing encouraging signs following that game, but when you are first diagnosed with tumors over 70 percent of the brain the future was bleak. Children are amazing, and it is absolutely refreshing to see good stories written. The debacle on the field in Indianapolis seems much more palatable now. For the rest of us, the sun came up on Monday. I have shared the links to your writing with others. If you run into the football team, please tell them to keep putting their best foot forward, play with discipline, and give the Bulldogs Hell in Orlando!! (I feel like Mr. Casillas would want it that way). Leo Marshall, 29 Palms, California
Thanks for sharing this sad information. Wouldn't it be awesome if the football team would dedicate their bowl game to this courageous boy? Rod Bruce, Lincoln, Nebraska
Thank you for the great article on Isaiah Casillas. It brought me to tears. I've shared the article on both of my Facebook pages. Brandi Petersen, Omaha, Nebraska
Isaiah was probably the toughest little Husker ever to do the Tunnel Walk for sure. God bless him in Heaven and his family here! Dan Schwartzkopf, Torrington, Wyoming
What a great young man. He brought perspective into everyone's life. Thanks to his family for sharing Isaiha's short but inspiring life. Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Mike Capp, Tooele, Utah
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Casillas family. This puts everything in perspective. Needless to say, I was more than disappointed in the results of the Big Ten Championship game, but after reflecting red and black shirts and their coaching mentors for the examples that they set and their dedication to causes and the people affected!! Thank you for setting the standard for all of us in Husker Nation. Steve Young, Corpus Christi, Texas
RIP little Husker. You were what we all should be - strong and courageous. Leann Haba-Weich, Norfolk, Nebraska
Life is precious, and Isaiah's life was significant to a lot of other little children as well as a lot of people. I pray God will comfort his parents and family, and I pray for Jack also. God never makes a mistake, and Jesus loved Isaiah so much, He wanted him home, so he wouldn't suffer any more. Kathy Holliday, Elm Creek, Nebraska
I'm so sad that Isaiah passed. Thank you Nebraska for doing all that you did for him. It was a very noble thing. Pauly Nokes, Pace, Florida
Prayers go out to little Isaiah's family. He was a true Husker fan 'til the end unlike many so called "Husker fans" that just sit around and ridicule the players and coaches after a big loss. There are way more important things in life than winning the Big Ten or any other championship game. Yes, it would have been nice, but Isaiah went straight to Heaven believing in his team and his heroes. Connie Rosno, Sioux City, Iowa
Spread those wings and fly high angel! I also have a 6-year-old named Isaiah and can't imagine losing him. We offer our thoughts and prayers for strength, comfort and courage to his parents and family during their time of loss. Chelsie Abell, Lincoln, Nebraska
Oddly enough, Isaiha's Tunnel Walk was the last game my husband watched before succumbing to brain cancer on Oct. 6. Prayers for his family! Barb Burrows Summers
My heart goes to Isaiah's family and friends and the players that got to meet him. Stan Carradine, Denver, Colorado
Makes all the fussing we've been doing about the game very insignificant. God bless Isaiah and all those who helped him.Renee Morrison, Lincoln, Nebraska
What a wonderful tribute to a brave little boy! Thank you Husker players for giving these boys wonderful memories! My prayers to Isaiah's family. Ellen Minderman Moynihan, Camdenton, Missouri
So sorry for this family's loss, but what an inspirational story. Praying that someone soon will find answers/cures for this horrible disease!! And praying for comfort for this family and the other young cancer patients .. tragic!! Amy Marks, Palm Harbor, Florida
Lovely article about a very special little boy. My heart goes out to his loved ones. Alyssa Gustafson, Lincoln, Nebraska
What a wonderful article. God bless Isaiah's family during this very difficult time. Cathy Cochnar, Grand Island, Nebraska