Christopher Courtney smiled, but it probably wasn’t evident to everyone how elated he was the moment he learned the Make-A- Wish Foundation was sending the 12-year-old Oakdale boy and his family on a six-day vacation to Hawaii.
He sometimes finds it difficult to fully comprehend information and express his emotions, and Christopher already had a busy Sunday morning before discovering his wish had been granted.
Christopher received a tour of the California State University, Stanislaus, campus in Turlock and got to meet some of students. He also met with the Stanislaus State baseball team, practicing with the players in their batting cage and throwing the first pitch before their game vs. the University of California, San Diego.
About 20 minutes after the Make-A- Wish announcement was made, Christopher was well aware he’s going on vacation with his parents and siblings on the island of Oahu.
“I’m really excited,” Christopher said.
The seventh-grader has a neurodegenerative disorder with symptoms such as choking, uncontrolled movements and limited use of his hands. After $80,000 worth of genetic testing, doctors still can’t make an exact diagnosis.
They say he suffers from a disorder similar to Huntington’s disease, which the doctors have ruled out.
But his parents say Christopher’s conditioned has worsened in the past few years.
“He’s getting worse cognitively,” said Chris Courtney, the boy’s father. “It’s affecting his learning.”
His mother, Stefanie Courtney, said her son was a B student at school. But his learning abilities have declined, and he’s now enrolled in the Oakdale Junior High School Special Day class. It’s a class with eight handicapped students, where Christopher and others can get the extra help they need.
Christopher is receiving medication designed for patients with Huntington’s disease, and his parents say it’s really helped. His medication is $7,000 a month, but his parents are grateful their medical insurance covers those costs.
I’m so appreciative that Stan State and Make-A- Wish organized all this and kept it a secret.
Chris Courtney, the boy’s father
For now, Christopher’s family just wants the boy to experience the kind of life other boys his age have. He enjoys playing basketball, studying science in school, riding his scooter and camping with his family.
“We’re trying to be as normal as possible for as long as possible,” Chris Courtney said.
Christopher’s medical condition hasn’t given the boy and his family much normalcy since his symptoms first appeared early last year. He started exhibiting uncoordinated movements.
The Courtneys adopted the boys, and they didn’t have clear medical histories from his biological parents, which made it more difficult for doctors to understand what was causing his symptoms.
A year ago, Christopher’s condition had deteriorated so significantly that he was admitted to a hospital. He was placed on an immune therapy but developed meningitis, and his treatment was stopped while he recovered.
After returning home from the hospital, the medication has helped improved his condition. His movement disorder is better controlled and he no longer suffers from choking.
He even plays Little League baseball in Oakdale. He plays catcher and left field for a few innings before he gets too fatigued, his dad said.
Christopher was all smiles Sunday morning hanging out on the diamond with the Stan State baseball players. They gave him a team cap and a T-shirt, and each player placed a Hawaiian lei on the boy after the wish was announced.
The vacation was a surprise to Christopher. The boy was told he was getting a campus tour and he would throw the first pitch, but that’s all he knew.
“I’m so appreciative that Stan State and Make-A- Wish organized all this and kept it a secret,” Chris Courtney said about his son’s surprise.
The Hawaiian vacation was made possible because of a partnership between Make-A- Wish and NCAA Division II student-athletes, who have raised more than $3.5 million nationwide for the foundation since 2003.
The student-athletes also volunteer their time to help the foundation, which works to grants wishes to children with life-threatening diseases to strengthen their spirit and offer some hope.
I’m happy that this trip can be a real bonding experience. Something positive, you know.
Stefanie Courtney, the boy’s mother
On Sunday, Michele Flynn of Make-A- Wish kneeled to explain to Christopher how he will get his chance to swim with dolphins in Hawaii. It was a vacation activity he always wanted to do since watching “A Dolphin Tale,” a movie about a friendship between a boy and a dolphin that lost its tail in a crab trap.
Christopher’s mother said the trip will give her son and his siblings a chance to experience a fun vacation and reconnect. He has three sisters and two brothers. His siblings have struggled, as well, not knowing what disorder is affecting their brother’s behaviors and wondering if he will get better.
The Courtneys are grateful Make-A- Wish will cover the vacation costs for Christopher, his parents and his siblings younger than 18. His parents will pay for their two adult children to ensure the whole family gets to spend this time together.
“I’m happy that this trip can be a real bonding experience,” Stefanie Courtney said about her children. “Something positive, you know.”
Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394