I began my journey at Florida State University in 2017. I recently graduated from the College of Business with a degree in Finance. I’m currently a fifth-year Senior playing on the offensive line for the FSU Seminoles football team. It has been such a blessing to have had the opportunity to come to Florida State and live out my dream of playing college football. As my first charitable initiative in my new role as an Ambassador for Big Man Big Heart, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit, I’ve decided to use my name, image and likeness to help a young friend of mine, Liana Joy Ihde, who is battling through AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) at the age of 13. When I was five years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Going from being a kid that only wanted to play outside and play every sport there was to being the little boy diagnosed with cancer was tough. I went through many rounds of chemotherapy that kept me in the hospital on and off for months on end, which kept me from playing the sports that I loved. My treatment was scheduled to last a little over 3 years, but it took a little longer due to a GI bleed that I suffered. I spent 14 days in intensive care after the GI bleed and the doctors told my parents that they were not sure if I would survive. I fought for my life through the remainder of my treatment. As I was nearing the end of treatment, the Make-A-Wish Foundation reached out to me and offered to grant me a wish. I chose something that would last a long time, a place that I could hang out with my friends when I wasn’t feeling great. Make-A-Wish went above and beyond fulfilling my wish with my own home theater in my basement. Make-A-Wish is a wonderful organization that helps dreams come true for so many kids fighting cancer and other critical illnesses.
Now that I have grown up, I have had the opportunity to reflect and realize how God has guided me every step and put me in a position to help that same little innocent kid that I used to be. FSU football and Big Man Big Heart have provided me with the platform to give back and try to be a role model to others, especially those walking in the same shoes that I wore all those years ago. Liana Joy is so brave, braver than anyone I know, and she and her family need our support now more than ever! All donations will directly help the Ihdes with the expenses associated with Liana’s upcoming battle – a bone marrow transplant which will hopefully put her cancer into remission. This includes medical costs, relocation expenses, travel expenses, housing expenses for 4-6 months, complementary care for Liana – which includes things like working with an integrative oncologist, proper supplementation, acupuncture/acupressure, pediatric massage, and solid nutrition to support the body’s innate healing mechanisms. The Ihdes bring their food to the hospital to support their dietary choices. This makes hospital stays more challenging, but they have managed with the kindness of friends making meals, giving them gift cards to Daily Harvest and restaurants that serve nourishing foods. Liana’s medical needs will extend beyond the transplant as there will be a lot of healing and support needed for her body, mind, and spirit. The trauma of all of this will leave lasting impressions on the entire Ihde family.
I am overcome with a strong desire to help this family, to bring some joy to their lives and a smile to Liana Joy’s face. If you can, please donate to show some BIG LOVE to Liana Joy and her family. Kindly help me, Dillan Gibbons, and my FSU football teammates as we cheer Liana Joy on to healing! Help us shower her and the entire Ihde family with positivity and kindness as Liana Joy completes her 6th round of chemotherapy and as she receives her bone marrow transplant in Orlando in the hopes of putting her cancer into remission for good. They need all the support we can give them if they are going to win this battle!
One day last Spring, my fiancée and I took a weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, SC. On our last morning there, we decided to stop for one last walk on the beach before we left. Kristie Ihde (pronounced EE-deh), Liana Joy’s Mom, was walking their German Shepherd, Rohan, on the beach. Makala and I noticed Rohan’s knee brace and we stopped to ask if we could pet him.The small talk began, and we came to find out she had a daughter, Liana, who had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. Within moments, we all began to see all that we shared in common – Kristie attended FSU and was raised on FSU football, Liana was battling leukemia. Liana’s Dad, Stephan, is a financial advisor, and I have a strong interest in pursuing a career in the financial advising world. We all agree that it was serendipitous that we met that day. We talked for quite some time, and that meeting has sparked a lasting friendship. The Ihde family are all huge college football fans. Liana’s 11-year-old younger sister, Zoe, can even rattle off the college football rankings without blinking an eye. Zoe made me appreciate the struggle my sister went through watching me suffer. As soon as I met this family, I instantly felt connected to them. I felt the Lord had our paths cross for a reason. Since we first met, I have kept up with both Liana and Zoe through Liana’s cancer treatments, offering encouragement and support every chance I get.
In the fall of 2020, Liana Joy was a typical 12-year-old girl who loves guinea pigs, frogs, writing songs, and drawing. However, she began to have difficulty walking and quickly became out of breath. A late-night trip to the ER on November 18, 2020, changed the Ihdes’ lives abruptly when doctors diagnosed Liana with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). The family was stunned and devastated.
Liana immediately began the difficult chemotherapy treatments for AML. Her parents, Stephan and Kristie, began living in the hospital – switching places every two days to care for Liana while the other was at home with Zoe. AML is the less common type of childhood leukemia and is known for being extraordinarily difficult to treat. The treatment requires intense rounds of chemotherapy which result in multiple month-long in-patient hospital stays. Liana went through four grueling rounds of chemo, staying in the hospital from November 2020 to May 2021 with only a few breaks at home in between.
Chemotherapy has many unwanted side effects, some of which show up quickly- including hair loss, high fevers, body pain, horrific rashes, and mouth sores. Thankfully, Liana successfully finished her treatments and went into remission in May 2021. She was enjoying being a teenager and having cancer-free summertime fun when her legs suddenly started hurting again. Unfortunately, on July 26, she went to the cancer clinic for a routine check-up, and the doctors found that her cancer had abruptly returned. The family felt like they had the rug pulled out from underneath them.
That afternoon, Liana was admitted to the hospital, started a fifth round of chemotherapy, and endured another brutal month of intense pain. Unfortunately, follow-up tests showed that she wasn’t in remission, so she returned to the hospital on September 16 and is currently undergoing her 6th round of chemotherapy in hopes of achieving complete remission.
After this round of treatment, Liana and her family will relocate to central Florida for four to six months so that Liana can receive a complete bone marrow transplant at Advent Health Children’s Hospital in Orlando. There is no stem cell transplant facility within commuting distance of their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, so they chose a location where they have an extensive support network already in place. Kristie and her daughters are Florida natives, and the family lived in the Orlando area for many years.
The potentially life-saving process of a bone marrow transplant (BMT) involves intense chemotherapy and/or a total body radiation course to obliterate her bone marrow completely. This is followed by an infusion of a donor’s bone marrow and stem cells. A restricted hospital stay of 6-8 weeks follows that procedure if all goes well, and the family must remain near the hospital for four to six months in case Liana faces any complications. Liana’s dad, Stephan, has taken a leave of absence from his financial advising practice so he can focus more on his family’s needs.
November 2021 marks one year since diagnosis, most of which Liana Joy has spent in the hospital. This process has been extremely challenging for her entire family, but especially for Liana and Zoe. They are very close and haven’t been able to be with each other due to restricted hospital visitation policies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoe worries that her sister will not survive the bone-marrow transplant every day, and she misses the everyday interaction with her big sister and best friend. As a sibling of a pediatric cancer patient, she’s suffering immensely throughout this dramatic change in her family’s home life and the uncertainty and sadness surrounding Liana’s diagnosis and cancer battle. Her parents, Kristie and Stephan, feel as if they have climbed Mount Everest and now are immediately faced with conquering K2.
If you can, please consider donating to help Liana Joy and her family through this difficult time. Show them all some BIG LOVE!