A memory to last a lifetime
While many of us were closely watching the Olympics from our TVs, 15-year-old Conor Allen of Alexandria was experiencing it first-hand.
Conor was one of 40 children from the U.S. and one of two from Minnesota who traveled to London with their families to take in a portion of this year's Olympic games.
The experience all started when Conor's mother, Amy Allen, was encouraged to have Conor apply for a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Despite the fact that Conor has suffered from heart problems his entire life, she never realized he would be eligible.
"I wasn't aware that this was for anyone living with a life threatening disease," she explained. "I always thought it was only for those with a terminal diagnosis."
So, she and her husband, Scott, looked into the possibility. Conor was accepted into the program in December 2011 and in January he met with Make-A-Wish granters.
"Coming up with a wish was probably the hardest part," Amy explained. "Think about it - if you had to pick a wish, what would it be?"
Conor started by making a long list of wishes and then slowly started crossing them off one by one.
Soon he was down to his final five - getting iPads for his school, getting a membership to a health club, meeting the president and touring Washington, D.C., visiting every major league ball park, and going to the Olympics.
"His original list included a lot of things for other people, because that's just the way he is," Amy explained. "For example, the iPads for his school. We really encouraged him to pick something just for himself."
"I was really surprised when he took visiting the major league ballparks off his list," she added, "because that has been a long-time dream of his. When I asked him why he took it off, he said, 'Because I think that's something I'll accomplish in my lifetime.'"
"I've already been to 11!" Conor quickly added.
With the help of Make-A-Wish and his family, Conor finally chose his wish - to attend the Olympics.
In March 2011 he was notified that his wish was granted and that he and his family - including Scott and Amy and his siblings Ben, 17, Jack, 12, and Anna, 9 - would travel to the Olympics during the summer of 2012.
Conor then needed to decide what events he would like to see. After much consideration he decided on track and field, the men's gold basketball game featuring the U.S. and Spain and the women's gold basketball game featuring the U.S. and France. The U.S. won gold medals in both basketball events.
"He also asked for closing ceremonies, but we weren't able to get to see that," Amy said.
The family spent four days in London. Conor said it was tough to pick one highlight as his favorite since the whole trip was "awesome," but he did mention that the final men's basketball game was fun because it was close and the crowd went crazy with cheering.
"The cool thing about the Olympics is that all these people from all these different places come together," Amy said. "They are all cheering and it's peaceful and fun. It's just so encouraging."
Conor was born July 17, 1997 at the Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria. A few hours after his birth, it was determined he had some heart problems and was airlifted to Children's Hospital in St. Paul.
Tests determined that he suffered from multiple congenital heart defects including atrial septal defect, ventricular septal defect, double outlet right ventricle and coarctation of the aorta. He had his first heart surgery at 1 week of age.
Numerous other surgeries followed in the next few months, including one to repair a tear in the diaphragm, one to remove part of the intestines due to bacterial infection, another to remove parts of his lungs, and more.
After a few months, when the family was preparing to bring Conor home, he suffered two cardiac arrests and underwent his second heart surgery.
He was finally able to go home in July 1998 after spending his first year of life in the hospital, but remained on a ventilator with 24-hour nursing care for the next year.
Conor has had a total of 13 surgeries, seven of which were open heart surgeries.
Conor will start 9th grade at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria next week, and it's rare that he finds much time to worry about his heart.
During the winter he's a big fan of his brother Ben's hockey games. He also works at Pizza Ranch.
In the spring and summer his life revolves around baseball. He plays on the school baseball team, and works at the Beetle's baseball games. He also helps his brother mow lawns.
"Nothing really slows him down," Amy said. "Seventh grade was a hard year. He was exhausted all the time, but he never complained. After his last surgery he's just doing so great.
"Right now we're just enjoying the moment," she concluded.
CONGENITAL HEART DEFECT (CHD)
Lasting Imprint will host the 3rd annual Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness Walk on Saturday, September 8 at City Park in Alexandria. Registration is from 8 to 9 a.m. with the walk from 9 to 10 a.m. Other activities will take place from 10 a.m. to noon.
This year's walk will recognize 15-year-old Conor Allen of Alexandria. The two-mile walk will raise funds for CHD education and support.
The event will include music, food, face painting, a balloon artist, bounce house, fire truck, tinsel hair decorating and more. Prizes will be awarded to the top fundraisers.
To register or make a donation, visit the website www.lastingimprint.org and click on events. Registration is $25 for adults and free for ages 16 and younger.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Lindsey Buttweiler at Lindsey.firstname.lastname@example.org or (320) 491-7391.
Lasting Imprint is a non-profit corporation established by individuals committed to fighting congenital heart defects. Visit the website www.lastingimprint.org for more information.