By Judy Sheridan
Aledo Middle School student Dylan Hancock needs a heart transplant, and volunteers from the Aledo community — some 20 strong — are working hard to make sure he will be able to afford the many related expenses.
The group’s fundraising goal: $40,000, as estimated by partner Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA), to pay for doctor visits and therapy after the life-saving surgery, which Dylan’s insurance will cover.
They are calling the grassroots effort, “Hearts of Hope for Dylan.”
“This whole East Parker County area has a long history of supporting important causes,” Community Coordinator Rob Helms said. “Our job is raising awareness. This needs to go viral in the sense that everybody knows about it, that it’s on everyone’s Facebook page.”
Fifteen-year-old Dylan, the son of Mondee Hancock, learned he would need a transplant in January as his Dilated Cardiomyopathy — diagnosed in September — worsened.
After spending two weeks in intensive care at Cook Children’s Medical Center, Dylan was transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston by air ambulance April 3, where doctors installed a temporary left ventricle assist device (LVAD) to help circulate his blood.
“I asked him the day before surgery if he was worried,” said Helms, Dylan’s Aledo ISD mentor and friend, “and he said, ‘I’m a little concerned, but I will do whatever it takes.’”
“I am amazed at his courage. He gets up and faces things and does what he has to do.”
The open-heart surgery was hard on the teen, with two weeks of down time, Helms said, but successful.
“It worked,” he said. “His organs are functioning with the proper blood flow; the LVAD is doing its job. “
In fact, Dylan is doing so well that he may be released from the hospital soon, Helms said. He must stay in Houston, however, for frequent doctor visits and occupational and physical therapy.
The eighth-grader becomes eligible for a transplant July 11, he said, giving his body 90 days to recover from his LVAD surgery.
“The transplant team will want him to stay close then,” Helms said, “because when the call comes, he will have to be there quickly.”
Helms, whose past successes as a stockbroker and in the oil and gas business have bought him more time to invest in the community, met Dylan at the beginning of the boy’s seventh-grade year.
“Someone suggested I get involved with the mentoring program with the school district,” Helms said. “I completed the half-day training, and they sent me to AMS to meet this young man.
“We started having lunch once a week in a storage room off the cafeteria. To his credit, he had an interest in the things a 50-year-old man had to say.”
By the beginning of eighth grade, Helms said, Dylan had decided to make some changes in his life, to earn respect by giving respect, to buckle down with his schoolwork, to be a leader on the football field.
“I know plenty of grown men who are not capable of remaking themselves like that,” Helms said. “His character and courage were evident then.”
The devastating diagnosis in September, following a chest X-ray related to Dylan’s asthma, meant the end of football — a huge disappointment to the talented athlete — but not the end of his new resolve.
“He wasn’t happy, but he didn’t bail on his plans,” Helms said. “He was still coming to school and working hard.”
Dylan’s heart condition however, continued to deteriorate, eventually leading to the decision to go forward with a transplant.
“We talked about it and decided not to be afraid to be afraid,” Helms said, “to seek answers and control what we could control and leave the rest up to God.”
There are rules for the AISD mentorship program, Helms said, rules that limit mentor/student contact to school sites or school functions.
“I called Denise Dugger, who runs the program,” Helms said, “and I told her the dynamics had changed, that I was dealing with something much bigger than an hour a week.
“I told her I would have to play by my own rules now.”
His mentor mindset had given way to the role of a friend, Helms said, not only to Dylan but to his mother, Mondee, and his 2-year-old sister, Elizabeth.
On the night before the LVAD surgery, as Mondee readied for the flight to Houston, Helms and his wife, Denise, offered to take Elizabeth into their home for a week, while Dylan and his mother got things sorted out.
When it looked like that road might be a long one, Helms asked his family — including 17-year-old Austin and 15-year-old Alex — to support a more long-term arrangement.
“We told Mondee to leave her until she was in a position to take her back,” he said, “and it’s been wonderful. A toddler brings a lot of energy — they’re learning new stuff every day — and the kids are tickled to have Lunchables and macaroni and cheese in the house.”
Fundraising efforts for Dylan kick off big time this week, Helms said, as some 75 Young Life of Aledo High School students set out to raise awareness of the boy’s plight by blanketing Aledo with 3,600 feet of teal ribbons, as well as teal paper and paint.
Other plans call for silicon bracelets, sponsorship T-shirts, a mid-June car wash and a July pancake breakfast.
“We’re connected with COTA, an unbelievable non-profit that will administer this fund for no fee,” Helms said.
“They’re the ones who have set this $40,000 goal through their experience and understanding of his coverage.”
To plug in to fundraising efforts, contact Helms at 972-342-6692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations for Dylan may be mailed to the Children’s Transplant Association, 2501 COTA Drive, Bloomington, Indiana, 47403. Checks or money orders should be made payable to COTA, with “In Honor of Team Dylan H” written on the memo line of the check.
Secure credit card donations are also accepted online at www.COTAforTeamDylanH.com.