Meeting Mr. Phelps: ‘Wish’ trip inspires young swimmer to new goals

April, 2018 Posted in Community, Sports & Recreation, Your Health
Mike Seberger - M Phelps - Chicago - (c) Mike Seberger-1838 (2)

Make-A-Wish recipient Liam Edwards (right) with his older brother Garrett (left) swam with Olympian Michael Phelps in Chicago (center). © Mike Seberger

By Mary Owen

Mary Lou Hazelwood calls her 13-year-old grandson a “marvel.”

“Liam has a bleeding disorder similar to hemophilia, but not hemophilia,” said Hazelwood, a longtime Stayton resident. “He has a platelet disorder, and although he has the correct anatomical number of platelets, none of them will actually perform their function and work properly.”

Liam Edwards was born with the rare disorder – and a very rare lung disease.

“There are only five people in the world with the bleeding disorder, and my family is part of the National Health Institute’s rare disease study,” said Liam, a seventh-grader at Crossler Middle School in Salem. “I also have seizures. All of this means I can’t play ‘ball’ activities like most boys, and I can get really sick over something that is minor to another person.”

Hazelwood said Liam hemorrhages with any cut or open sore. The condition impacted his lung function, and he uses a percussion vest twice daily to rid his lungs of congestion, she explained. “The disorder is so rare, it has no name,” she added.

Despite limitations, Liam embraces two activities he can do: video games and swimming. Following a local meeting, his uncle, Jay Ruettgers, decided to put his nephew’s name in for a Make-A-Wish, a program that grants wishes for young people whose lives have been seriously impacted by their medical condition.

“My wish was for me and my brother to meet and swim with Michael Phelps,” Liam said. “Michael Phelps is the greatest Olympian and awesome swimmer!”

Wish granted. Liam and his family were given a 72-hour notice to fly to Chicago to meet the swimming phenom. Phelps is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 28 medals. He also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals, 13 in individual events, and that’s just part of a long litany of medals, records, and other honors.

“It was amazing!” Liam said of his session with Phelps, who holds 39 long-course world records.

“He showed us different things about each stroke and had us swim for him. In the end we raced, and my brother, Garrett, and I beat him!” Liam has been swimming for four years, and Garrett, for five years. “My brother is really fast,” he said proudly.

Liam swims with MidValley Aquatics in Salem and competes at meets throughout Oregon, Hazelwood said.

“His plan is to continue swimming since it seems to help his lung function,” she said, “and since swimming is without contact, it is a good fit. This condition is hereditary, and he is always on guard against any injury, additional illness or surgery.”

Hazelwood did not attend the Make-A-Wish event, but said that family members reported Phelps to have been kind, caring and attentive during their visit.

“He got into the pool and swam with the boys, and then attended a ceremony afterward where Make-A-Wish presented Michael with an award for his program support,” she said.

Liam’s take-away from the Phelps meetup was a dream to swim in college and go to the Olympics.

“I am thankful for Make-A-Wish and the opportunity and special treatment on our visit,” said Liam, who hopes to become a physicist in the future. “I am doing the Walk for Wishes to pay it forward to other kids.”

The 2018 Walk for Wishes takes place on Saturday, April 21 at the Oregon Zoo in Portland. For information on the walk or the organization, visit oregon.wish.org.

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