Make-a-Wish restores pickup for Belfield student
When the Heart River cheerleaders called former Cougars mascot Theron Lee to come forward, he had no idea why he was being summoned to the football field in Belfield.
That's when Dickinson Noon Lions Club member and Make-a-Wish volunteer Kelly Braun came over the loudspeaker. He asked Theron to turn around.
Theron, 16, saw his newly restored 1996 Ford pickup, sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation of North Dakota through the Noon Lions Club's annual fundraiser.
"I was speechless," Theron said. "I was excited for the most part."
Theron was granted a wish because of a life-threatening heart condition. The wish was an easy decision for him. He wanted to repair his grandpa's pickup he had inherited.
"It's for him in his memory," Theron said. "I still can't believe it's done. I'd like to say thank you to all the volunteers who worked on it."
Theron was all smiles when he looked inside the cab, inspected the tool box, listened to the sound system and admired the chrome. He couldn't wait to take it for a drive.
Theron is the son of Michael and Erica Lee of Belfield and a junior at Belfield High School. He plans to become a petroleum engineer after graduation.
Theron was diagnosed at birth with multiple heart defects.
V A ventricular septal defect -- basically, a hole in the heart between the two bottom chambers.
V A ventricular L-transposition -- the ventricular chambers are turned around.
V Pulmonary stenosis -- the pulmonary valve is tightened.
The defects were managed with medicine until he was 9 and then he had his first open-heart surgery in Palo Alto, Calif. At age 10, he went into surgery to change out his pacemaker.
Theron took a turn for the worse last summer. During a routine visit, his heart stopped.
"After 59 minutes of resuscitation, the doctors were blown away -- there was no neurological deficit," Erica said.
The surgeons decided he could benefit from an internal defibrillator. Coming out of surgery, he coded again and that's when he suffered a brain injury, she said.
Theron spent seven weeks in the Phoenix Children's Hospital, and he was then transferred across the city to the Barrows Neurological Institute for therapy. He was discharged a year ago in October. His prognosis is good.
"He's doing well," Michael said. "In fact, he's in a place they never expected him to be."
Erica gave credit to the principal and teachers who kept in contact during Theron's recovery. The speech therapists became integrated into their family.
"The support we have received from the community has left us speechless," she said.
Last fall, Theron was recognized during a school assembly with a Lifetime Honorary Cougar Spirit Award. That's when a school official decided to refer Theron to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
"I think its humor kept us going," Erica said. "All the support we've received from the community is absolutely overwhelming."
Upon application approval, two wish granters, Amy Binstock and Julie Obrigewitsch, came for a visit to Theron's home in the spring.
"They sat down with Theron to chat and it was his wish to have the pickup restored," Michael said. "I was hoping he'd go into a different direction, but that's what he wanted. This is really about the child."
The wish granters said the it would likely take at least a year. However, the restoration was completed in a couple of months.
"It was like a miracle," Michael said.
When the family drove to the football game, Theron spotted the pickup, but he didn't recognize it.
"It was a totally different color," Michael said. "They did an amazing job. They really went above and beyond."
Speaking to those involved, he said, "The family really appreciates the effort they put into it. You would have to put cinder blocks on his feet to keep him from blowing away. He's still very happy and we can't say enough to Make-a-Wish and the people who actually did the work on the vehicle."
Binstock said the wish granters probably get as much out of the wishes as the child.
"To see the smiles on their faces -- for one day to be worry-free, that's pretty rewarding," she said. "We try to give them a moment of joy when they have been through so much."
Several Dickinson businesses were involved in restoring the pickup, she said.
Aaron Weise, a body man at Dan's Body Shop, was among the crew that worked on the pickup.
"We did it mostly through work, and I volunteered my time after hours and on Saturday," he said. "It took us about three or four weeks. We pretty much worked every day on it."
Weise said it gave him personal satisfaction to be part of the team.
"I grew up watching shows where you help a person out," he said. "When my boss came to me, I said right away I wanted to be part of it -- to see the person's face."
The Dan's team came for the presentation. They included Wanda Cassezza, Tanner Rixen and Derek Mischke.
"It was priceless," Weise said. "That was the first time I met Theron."
Make-a-Wish grants wishes through the generosity of donations.
The Dickinson Noon Lions Club has a fundraiser every March at the Eagles, Binstock said.
"It's huge for us and the biggest fundraiser in North Dakota for Make-a-Wish," she added. "We live in an awesome community -- everybody is so giving."