Jack Hoffman

Jack Hoffman, 6, of Atkinson, has been battling brain cancer since April 2011. Since then, he has become friends with Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead. Efforts are to try and sell 10,000 "Team Jack" T-shirts before the Wisconsin football game Sept. 29, when Burkhead will receive the Rare Disease Champion Award presented by Uplifting Athletes.

By now, many Nebraska football fans are probably familiar with Jack Hoffman and his medical challenges.

Jack first was taken to the West Holt Memorial Hospital in Atkinson on April 22, 2011. His family noticed Jack was acting oddly at the breakfast table — staring into space and not responding.

At the hospital, Jack had a grand mal seizure and respiratory failure, said his father, Andy Hoffman.

“We were lucky not to lose him then right there in Atkinson,” Hoffman said.

Next Jack went to Children's Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, where it initially was thought he had a brain virus. A few weeks later, doctors determined that he had pediatric brain cancer.

He underwent his first surgery in May 2011 in Omaha. In October 2011, he had a second brain surgery at Children's Hospital in Boston, where doctors were able to remove about 95 percent of the tumor. The surgery helped to eliminate the multiple seizures Jack had been experiencing.

In Boston, talking to experts, the family learned about “the lack of good options,” Hoffman said.

Little has changed to help children with tumors in the past 25 years, Hoffman said. In essence, it's usually a death sentence, he said.

Before the Boston trip, Jack met Rex Burkhead, the Nebraska running back, as a “bucket list” wish, his father said.

Burkhead's friendship helped the family and especially Jack, who loves football. It also brought awareness of the family's fight to more people.

Burkhead subsequently began wearing a red wristband that said “Team Jack — Pray,” which he continues to wear for each game.

When Nebraska played Ohio State last year, the announcers commented on Burkhead's “Team Jack — Pray” wristband.

Burkhead continued his support with visits and contacts. The combination of the media coverage and Burkhead's involvement has given the Hoffman family a platform to make more people aware of brain tumors in children.

Earlier this year, the Husker Radio Sports Network became involved through the efforts of State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk, who owns two Norfolk radio stations.

Flood, who is a lawyer, said he had been working on a case with Andy Hoffman, who also practices law.

“Andy is the kind of lawyer who is always on the job,” Flood said. “He's a hard driver, a great family man, but someone who always works very hard at whatever he is doing.”

Flood said after visiting with Hoffman, he felt terrible.

“I sensed this absolute sadness, and he was really down,” Flood said.

But Hoffman remained committed to raising funds for pediatric brain cancer research. It's not for his family so much as about helping other families in the future, Flood said.

Flood and Hoffman came up with the idea of a T-shirt. Flood and employees at KNEN contacted other stations on the Nebraska Sports Network. They got other stations involved with promoting T-shirt sales, including arranging vendors in each town.

The goal is to sell at least 10,000 “Team Jack” T-shirts before the Sept. 29 game when Nebraska hosts Wisconsin. The University of Nebraska also approved the sale and promotion.

On Sept. 29, Burkhead is scheduled to be awarded the Rare Disease Champion Award by Uplifting Athletes. The Big Ten Network also is scheduled to air a feature about the friendship between Burkhead and Jack.

Hoffman can be seen selling T-shirts before Nebraska football games outside Memorial Stadium. He also makes stops across the state. At times, he has worked as a “one-man band,” Flood said.

“He doesn't give up,” Flood said. “He is committed to the cause.”

The T-shirts sell for $15, plus tax. All the funds will go toward research.

Jack is just about finished with a two-week break from chemotherapy. He will resume treatment later this week for four weeks, then will be off again for two weeks.

The treatment cycle is designed that way to let his blood levels recover. He is on a 60-week treatment procedure that he began May 1.

“It's a tough protocol,” Hoffman said. “It's a very long therapy and very toxic chemotherapy regimen. It's very hard on the body. The regimen that he is on has not changed in 25 years.”

Hoffman said his family appreciates everyone who has helped Jack and his family.

“Nobody ever wants their child to be the poster child for pediatric brain cancer, but if it has to be Jack, let's do it and let's do it right,” he said.

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