By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
GasMaskGamerWyo’s YouTube channel has 869 subscribers. He posts videos about his dog, family trips to the grocery store, and power outages — and his battle with leukemia.
12-year-old Oughen (pronounced Owen) Karn from Dubois was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago — and thanks to Make-A-Wish Wyoming, his dream of having his own YouTube channel has come true.
“GasMaskGamerWyo” refers to the face mask he has to wear during his cancer treatments.
Oughen’s mom, Sara, said that his diagnosis came after he didn’t recover from a minor illness.
“We came down to the clinic thinking it was tonsillitis or strep throat or something like that,” she said, explaining that his glands were extremely swollen, and didn’t respond to high doses of antibiotics.
“We took him over to Jackson, they did some tests, and they immediately sent us to Salt Lake. And it was leukemia. So starting that day, we began living in the hospital for 35 days straight. And we got to come home after that point for a few days, but basically lived in Salt Lake for the first year of treatment for him.”
“I really don’t have a lot of energy,” Oughen said. “It takes my energy away. At first, it was really rough, because I would like, throw up every 10 minutes. Now it’s better, I am getting my energy back. But super slowly, though.”
First Told About Make-A-Wish
Oughen’s family was first told about Make-A-Wish Wyoming shortly after his diagnosis.
“He couldn’t decide what he wanted,” Sara said. “He kept trying to think of things for the whole family. And we’re just like, ‘Buddy, you’re the one who’s fighting this, you need to think more for yourself, what you want long term.’ And then we just became aware that that was the perfect wish, because we’ve been having to homeschool all three of the kids with COVID. And then you know, the cancer. So his immune system is shot, and so it’s really how he socializes as well.”
Morgan Poloncic, CEO for Make-A-Wish Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily that Oughen was among 28 Wyoming kids who were granted wishes this year ranging from a golf simulator to a baby grand piano.
Make-A-Wish recipients must be children diagnosed with a critical illness, Poloncic said.
“One of the biggest misconceptions of Make-A-Wish is that our kids have to have a terminal condition to be eligible for a wish, but that’s not true,” she said.
Poloncic said that many different conditions qualify a child for a wish — kids with all types of cancer, even up to a year after the child has gone into remission, due to continued risk; kids who have had or need an organ transplant, and kids who have conditions like Huntington’s disease or muscular dystrophy, or rare genetic medical conditions.
“We currently have 52 wishes in progress across the state,” she said.
Making A Wish Come True
Making a wish come true for critically ill kids is no small feat. The Karn family has been coordinating with many people to get Oughen’s YouTube channel set up.
“They got a marketing company involved to help get it rolling,” said Sara. “And they came and did photoshoots with him. And they’re in the process of working with us to help get all of his equipment hooked up. So there’s been quite a few people involved in this, which is amazing.”
Poloncic said that the kids they help have had some very creative wishes.
“Right now we have a wish kid who has wished to have a triple tandem bike,” she said. “Not just a tandem bike, with two people riding it, but a triple tandem. And then there’s Oughen.”
Poloncic said their organization had never had a child wish to be a YouTube personality, and it’s taken some coordination to grant that wish.
“We are our own 501 (C)(3) (tax exempt charity) here in Wyoming, so the funds that we raise here stay here in Wyoming,” she said. “But one great thing about being a part of Make-A-Wish America and that national organization is that we can reach out to the 58 other chapters across the country and say, ‘Hey, has anyone granted a wish to be a YouTuber before, and how did you do it?’”
Poloncic said Wyoming’s organization set up Oughen’s YouTube channel and partnered with a Wyoming marketing agency, Kalen Marketing Solutions, and they ran with it.
“So they created artwork for his channel, so he has his own logo and his own graphics to go along with it,” she explained. “And then they also really helped us figure out what he needed in his house to be able to run a YouTube channel, especially for it to be a video game-themed channel.”
Oughen’s mom said just the process of picking the name for the channel says a lot about her son’s character.
“It was for a school project, he was supposed to come up with an idea for a superhero, and do a drawing” Sara explained. “And so he came up with this superhero name, ‘Gasmask Gamer,’ because his facemask that he wears to the hospital always reminds him of a gas mask. So he was the superhero, and his job is to help other people, other kids who are sick, through his experiences.”
Hoping Sick Kids Will Recover
Poloncic said the work of Make-A-Wish is rooted in hopes that the sick children will recover.
“Our hope for every single child is that they will beat their condition or have a successful transplant and hopefully be able to go on and live a somewhat normal life,” she said.
And Oughen is doing just that. His mother said that thanks to Make-A-Wish, he’d like to do this for a living.
“They’ve set him up just so well, to really make this his dream,” Sara said.
And Oughen’s big heart has given him a bigger perspective, too — he said that although the cancer has been hard, his family has been blessed.
“A lot of bad has come out of the cancer, but a lot of good has come out of it, too,” he said.
You can find Oughen’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTO2W3-3pLJcLDFaLM0buvw/videos