‘Isla’s heart’: Bemidji State men’s hockey game to raise funds for local Make-A-Wish family – Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State men’s hockey team has a secret weapon for their next home game.

Nine-year-old Isla Moran of Bemidji is ready to gear up and bring the energy to the ice during the men’s hockey game on Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Sanford Center.

In collaboration with BSU’s athletic department, the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce and Lueken’s Village Foods, the game on Feb. 4 will be a Make-A-Wish fundraiser to support Isla and her family with her battle against Shone’s Syndrome, a rare congenital heart disease.

“We are so proud of our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee for lighting the spark on this event and thankful to our incredible community sponsors who are taking the event to the next level,” BSU Director of Athletics Britt Lauritsen said. “To be able to highlight a local Make-A-Wish family, embrace our commitment to community engagement and present a night of Beaver hockey checks all the boxes.

“We’re hoping to sell out the Sanford Center to show how Bemidji shows up to support amazing causes together.”

The game will feature a Teddy Bear Toss after the first Beaver goal and all the bears will be given to the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota. Fans can also bring their own teddy bear to throw, preferably new and still in the plastic wrap. During second admission, Chuck-A-Puck will take place and all its proceeds go towards benefiting the local Make-A-Wish Minnesota chapter.

Going out on the ice with the big hockey boys in front of hundreds of fans might be intimidating for most 9-year-olds, but as someone who’s already had four open-heart surgeries, Isla seems undaunted.

“I have this friend and her sister (BSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President Rumer Flatness) is doing something for Make-A-Wish and they want me to be the face of it,” Isla said. “I get to do two puck drops and I get a jersey with a No. 4 on it for my four heart surgeries.”

According to Isla’s mother, Amanda Moran, normally Make-A-Wish fundraisers are held at the basketball games, but they made an exception for Isla as she has always been a big hockey fan. She even knows the B-E-M-I-D-J-I cheer when the Beavers score a goal.

“My favorite part (about hockey games) is cheering, eating cotton candy and not getting hit in the face with the puck,” she said with a laugh.

The game starts at 6:07 p.m. at the Sanford Center and general admission tickets start at $5 along with all other tickets available at a discounted price. Discounted tickets can be purchased at the box office or on


using code MAKEAW.

‘We don’t talk about Bruno’

Isla and her mother traveled down to the Mayo Clinic just three weeks ago for her fourth heart surgery on Jan. 3. As Isla spends her days recovering in her home with her mother and cat, Zoomy, she remains just as energetic as she was before.


Isla poses for a photo prior to heading into her fourth heart surgery on Jan. 3, 2023, at Mayo Clinic.


“We just went up to Fargo on Tuesday to have her echo done and her heart looks good and she’s healing really well,” Amanda said. “She’s had more muscle pain on her side than her actual heart. She’ll probably have to have another surgery, but not for years down the road.”

“Not until I’m at least 29,” Isla added with a laugh.

In the Moran household, the word surgery is never said. Instead, Isla and her family have a secret code word: Bruno.

“We don’t talk about Bruno,” Isla said in reference to one of her favorite movies, “Encanto.”

As she rests and recovers from her last “Bruno,” Isla is eager to return to school in mid-February and see her friends again. But in the meantime, she has some advice to share for someone who might be going through something similar.

“Some advice is if they were to go to (Mayo Clinic), I’d tell them not to worry because you’ll have a great time there. They have music stuff, a playroom and really nice nurses,” Isla said. “At the beginning, I was really scared, so I know how you feel. The easy stuff is coming (to the surgery), but the hardest stuff is far away like learning how to walk again.”


Isla’s favorite nurse, Troy, has been by her side for her last two heart surgeries.


Amanda added that the biggest things she and Isla continue to work on are not being afraid to ask questions, letting the doctors and nurses know what she’s comfortable with and being honest about how she’s feeling.

“I’m not saying we’re lucky, but one thing that’s nice is that we know how it goes. We are able to talk her through what to expect,” Amanda said. “For the most part, we can give her the general idea of what’s going to happen. And the doctors do a really good job of talking directly to the kids and answering their questions.”

Amanda was 35 weeks pregnant with Isla when they found out about her congenital heart defect and at only two days old, Isla faced her first open-heart surgery.

“It definitely gets harder the older she gets because when she was younger, we would just bring her in and we would do all the worrying,” Amanda said. “Now we’re worrying and she is, too. It’s just a whole different balance.”

Isla, Amanda and their family are continuously thankful for the amount of support from the Bemidji community, along with Isla’s teachers and classmates — from neighbors bringing meals to their doorstep to each class and making decorations for her hospital room to cheer Isla up post-surgery.

“Her classmates were so cute when she was getting ready to leave for her surgery, they sent her a book of well-wishes so she could look at it when she was there, then another class made her a prayer chain for her room,” Amanda said. “The school and community have been really good to us and the parents of the kids have reached out to us and we’ve had meals brought over and it’s just been amazing.”

Amanda, her husband and two other daughters continue to stay strong for Isla. She mentioned that the support from their own family has been monumental for her.


The Moran Family poses for a photo during Christmas.


“I’m breathing a little bit easier, we’re hanging in there. It’s been a balance and we have great family support which has been huge,” Amanda said. “Isla just doesn’t even realize how strong she is. She is the strongest, feistiest and sassiest person I know,” Amanda said with a laugh. “We always made a joke that the surgeons added extra sass to her during the operations.”

Isla’s family has set up a


to help cover medical expenses, hotel and gas costs and to allow the family to stay by her side as she recovers.

“The family is blessed to have medical insurance, but they will be on unpaid leave from work for several weeks, plus they will have hotel and gas expenses,” the GoFundMe reads. “Donations will allow the family to stay by Isla’s side as she undergoes surgery and recovery.”


“It’s Isla’s favorite day of the week because she is going home. She is wireless and ready to blow this pop stand. Peace out Bruno,” the GoFundMe post reads.


To follow along on Isla’s journey or to donate, visit


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