— By JUDY SHERIDAN
Back-to-back fundraisers for Aledo teen Dylan Hancock — recovering well from a successful heart transplant — are today and Saturday at GamerTagz in Weatherford, located at 116 East Interstate 20.
A “Family Game Night for Dylan” is scheduled for 6-11 p.m today, with GamerTagz co-owner Mike Jones and his wife, Jodi, donating all the proceeds from the $10 per hour game time purchases. Local businesses will donate prizes, too, to be given away in a raffle.
Saturday’s event will spotlight a classic car show to be staged from noon to 5 p.m. A U.S. Army chopper will also be on exhibit, and the U.S. Army will provide custom-made dog tags.
Organizers say there will be prizes and giveaways during the day and food available at nearby restaurants.
Raffle drawings for all major prizes are scheduled to take place at 5 p.m. Saturday.
To build a new house
The weekend’s events launch a second major community fundraising drive for Dylan, who underwent the transplant Aug. 4 and was released from the hospital Aug. 14. This one focuses on building a “House of Hope” for him, his mother, Mondee, and his younger sister, Elizabeth.
The new home, to replace the family’s present house off Bankhead Highway, south of I-20, will be designed to lower the risk of illness, built with all hard surfaces, for example, along with state-of-the-art air handling and water filtration systems.
“The biggest challenge Dylan will face medically is infection, primarily respiratory infection,” Rob Helms, Dylan’s school mentor and the founder of Hearts of Hope for Dylan Hancock, said.
The Aledo Children’s Advocats and Business Group of Aledo — both non-profits — are partnering with Hearts of Hope in an effort to raise about $50,000 and build the house by Thanksgiving, according to Helms.
In the first fundraising effort, which began in mid-April, the Aledo community put up $40,000 for the Children’s Organ Transplant Association in honor of Dylan, with the money directed toward the teen’s non-medical transplant-related expenses.
Dylan would have been a freshman at Aledo High School this fall, but his plans were unhinged by the onset of viral dilated cardiomyopathy, eventually leading to a heart transplant at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Currently he is in isolation — but not hospitalized — in Houston, undergoing weekly pinpoint-sized heart biopsies and taking drugs to suppress his immune system.
He is expected to return to Parker County in November, 90 days after the operation, but will not attend regular school in Aledo ISD until after the first of the year, Helms said.
“He is attending home-bound school with Houston ISD twice a week, but he would like everyone to know he is still a Bearcat,” Helms said.
In fact, Aledo head football coach and athletic director Tim Buchanan promised Dylan, a middle school football, soccer and track athlete, that he would give him a support role in the district’s athletic program, Helms said.
Helms said Dylan prepared himself for the transplant, working out and gaining weight to get in the best physical shape.
In fact, when the call came that a match had been made — at 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 3 — he was in the weight room at the hotel. Whisked away by his mom without so much as a shower, Dylan was at the hospital within 45 minutes, Helms said, awaiting the arrival of the donated heart.
Helms, hosting a backyard cookout at the time, said he set off for Houston immediately when his wife got the call from Mondee, about 7:20 p.m.
“I had 25 people in my backyard, with a boneless ribeye roast on the grill,” he said. “I walked around the corner with tears in my eyes, got down on my knees and thanked God.”
Arriving in Houston at midnight, Helms said it seemed “fantasy-like” to be there as Dylan underwent the lifesaving surgery.
“It turned into reality against a backdrop of a mother up all night long for a different reason,” he said. “Out of tremendous sadness and crushing heartache, people made a gift that brought hope to Dylan’s mother.”
Dylan’s family doesn’t know the age or gender of the donor, Helms said, but is profoundly appreciative of the gift.
The new heart arrived at the hospital at 3:15 a.m. and took its first beat inside Dylan’s chest at 6:07 a.m., Helms said.
“In the waiting room it was great stuff,” he said. “It was going well, and there was relief in his mother’s eyes.”
The ACA has established a banking account solely for the purpose of receiving financial contributions for the House of Hope project. Donations can be sent to: Aledo Children’s AdvoCats—House of Hope, P.O. Box 25, Aledo, Texas 76008.
They may also be made online at aledoadvocats.com.