MSUM basketball players making difference for Lundon
MOORHEAD, Minn. — Dalton Lundon smiled, a reaction that came after a Minnesota State Moorhead men’s basketball player made a basket for him.
Malik Wood pointed to Lundon in the stands after he scored in last week’s game against Concordia.
That bucket was for the 10-year-old Lundon, who has a rare genetic blood disease called Fanconi anemia.
“Not many people can get him to smile, and Malik is one who can get him to smile,” said Heidi Lundon, Dalton’s mom. “Dalton keeps a lot inside.”
Dalton was paired with the Dragons men’s team through an organization called Team IMPACT, which matches kids who have life-threatening or chronic illnesses with college athletic teams.
“I think he is helping us more than we are helping him,” said Wood, a 5-foot-9 junior point guard playing in his first season with MSUM. “It’s more rewarding for us.”
Dalton was 5 years old when he was diagnosed with the disease that leads to bone marrow failure. FA leaves the body more prone to other diseases like cancer. Dalton had a bone marrow transplant soon after he turned 6.
That procedure is a treatment, not a cure, for the disease. The lifespan for people who have FA is between 20 and 30.
“A lot of his friends that we have met with the disease have died,” Heidi said. “That bothers him. He knows what his disease means, and I know that’s hard on him.”
That’s why the Lundons are grateful that Dalton is getting the chance to be part of the Dragons team.
“It’s something he may not be able to experience on his own,” said Jerry Lundon, Dalton’s father.
His favorite part of this experience is “being with them,” Dalton said in reference to the team.
“It puts life in perspective, how lucky you are,” said Dragons junior guard Jordan Riewer, who is also one of Dalton’s favorite players.
The team has held a mock signing day news conference for Dalton. During that conference, Wood called Dalton part of the Dragons family.
Dalton was introduced as part of the men’s team during Dragon Madness, which is an event where fans get introduced to the men’s and women’s teams heading into the season.
“It was awesome,” Jerry said.
Dalton was the honorary team captain for the Dragons in their game against Concordia a week ago. He was introduced with the team during pregame intros. Dragons head coach Chad Walthall presented Dalton with a team picture signed by each player.
All that interaction with the team has been good for Dalton and the family.
“He can forget about everything,” Heidi said. “He doesn’t have to think about doctors or medicine.”
Dalton and his family watched as the Dragons scored 100 points in a game for the first time since 2004 during a 102-55 victory against the Cobbers.
Heidi said when MSUM had 80-some points near the end of the second half, Dalton asked if the team was going to reach 100.
Heidi told Dalton she didn’t think so.
“He said, ‘I think they will. I’m here.’ I know he liked it,” Heidi said.
Dalton is in fifth grade and has three brothers and two sisters. Dalton likes outdoor sports like hunting and fishing.
The family lives in Mahnomen, Minn., but Dalton and his siblings go to school in Hawley, Minn. The school has a place for Dalton to rest during the day if he is feeling tired because of his disease.
Dalton’s siblings have done what they can to support him.
“It’s been hard on them, but I’ve seen them rally around Dalton like I have never seen any other kids (do),” Heidi said.
Dalton lost his hair when he was going through radiation and chemotherapy around to time of his bone marrow transplant. Heidi said Dalton’s siblings all shaved their heads to show their support.
Mikayla, the oldest daughter in the family, was 12 at that time. She had long hair, and shaved it twice for her brother.
“She walked around bald,” Heidi said. “She didn’t have anything over her head. She wanted everybody to see it.”
Dalton is a quiet kid, who used to be more outgoing before he was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia, Heidi said.
“He doesn’t say a lot,” she said. “He’s hiding a lot of emotional stuff inside.”
That’s why a night like last week, when Dalton got to watch MSUM play, is priceless for the Lundons.
“He was talking all the way home about the game and how nice they were and what they did for him,” Heidi said. “Instead of sleeping, he was talking the whole time.”
Dalton has unlimited access to the team, said Walthall, who himself is a father of four, including two 11-year-olds.
“As a parent, it hits you a little bit more,” Walthall said. “We have learned more from Dalton than anything we can teach him. He has fought for his survival.”
Dalton is headed back to Minneapolis next week for another doctor visit. Heidi is proud of how her son has fought the disease.
“He’s my hero,” she said.