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Jamestown boy gets his playset wish

Connor George received the playset through Make-A-Wish North Dakota.

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Connor George, 4, is held by his father, Chris George, as the family poses for a photo in the rain on Friday, April 30, after the wish reveal of a new playset for Connor through Make-A-Wish North Dakota. The rest of the family, from left, are Colton, Brooke, Lainey and Harper.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun
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JAMESTOWN – The drapes were closed in the George family’s living room on Friday afternoon as a steady rain fell outside. Outside in the backyard hidden behind those drapes was a surprise reveal waiting for 4-year-old Connor George.

Then when everyone - family, friends and co-workers - were gathered in the backyard, in the rain - Connor headed out back to see his wish had come true: He had a new playset, a wish granted through Make-A-Wish North Dakota. And it happened on the nonprofit’s World Wish Day in North Dakota, as proclaimed by Gov. Doug Burgum, the anniversary of the first wish granted 42 years ago.

For Connor, it was pretty cool to have Sonic the Hedgehog, his favorite cartoon character, “in person” at his house to go with him when he got to see his new playset.

Connor’s mom, Brooke George, said Connor was very excited that Sonic was there for the reveal and after seeing his new playset, he told his mom, “I think I’m going to keep it.”

Connor diagnosed in 2020

Brooke and Chris George have four children: Harper, 9; Colton, 7; Connor, 4, and Lainey, 19 months.

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Lainey was born in September 2020. Brooke said a few days after getting home from the hospital after her birth, then-2 ½-year-old Connor started complaining of being tired. Brooke said she didn’t think too much of it at the time – with a new baby in the house, everyone’s routine was off.

“That progressed to him complaining of having head and neck pain, and him being very fatigued,” she said. “He started vomiting every morning, so we wondered if he had a little virus or maybe his neck was kinked a little bit.”

Connor went to the chiropractor for adjustments, but his condition didn’t improve.

“And then it came to the point very quickly that he couldn’t stand up or walk,” Brooke said. “He was complaining of being very dizzy, tipping over, couldn’t go up and down the stairs anymore. … we ended up taking him over to the ER in Fargo about three weeks after his symptoms started, and they did an MRI in the ER and that’s where they found the brain tumor.”

Connor was diagnosed with medulloblastoma and had a large cancerous brain tumor, she said.

“It was blocking the spinal fluid from draining out of his brain down to his spinal canal so he had a buildup of fluid in his head,” she said, “so he was taken to emergency surgery to put a shunt in to relieve that pressure off the brain.”

Three days later, doctors did the tumor resection, an 8 ½-hour surgery.

“It’s hard to just think back of it and just remember all those emotions because we knew that something was wrong, we always had a worse-case scenario in our head but we didn’t want it to be that,” Brooke said. “So it was a shock, but also not. Just very emotional with being in the hospital there in Fargo with him, we were there for two weeks. We had a newborn baby at home that we couldn’t get back to and our other kids … Just the uncertainty and the fear, and just those feelings were indescribable. It was a lot. It was a lot to process.”

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Chris echoed that.

“It’s at first almost an overwhelming amount of information to even process and try to understand what it really means,” he said. “ … It was just something that was a challenge that we needed to address. It was extremely difficult … he was 2 ½ years old at the time and it was never anything that you want to hear or find out.”

Without having all of that help (from others) it just would have been so much more difficult, I think, than it already was.
Chris George, Connor's father

Chris said family, extended family and friends helped, staying with their children and watching their home.

Less than a week after Connor was released following surgery at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo in November 2020, Connor and his parents traveled to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. Connor had a workup and surgery for a residual tumor. Chris later flew home and got Lainey and brought her to Memphis. They would be in Tennessee for months during Connor’s chemotherapy treatment.

“Without having all of that help (from others) it just would have been so much more difficult, I think, than it already was,” Chris said. “It was nice to have that network of people to basically say, ‘Don’t worry about anything else. Take care of Connor, take care of your family, don’t worry about your house, don’t worry about anything, just go do what you need to do and we’ll figure it out.’”

Connor started chemo at the beginning of December, and when Christmas school break arrived, a relative brought Harper and Colton to Memphis. The Georges stayed until July 2021 before returning to Jamestown.

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Connor George's new playset includes swings on either side of a playhouse, a slide and sandbox.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Brooke and Chris each said their respective workplaces, Sanford Health in Jamestown and John Deere Seeding in Valley City, were understanding about their situation.

“For me, they were very accommodating,” Chris said. “I’m fortunate that the position I’m in has some ability to do telework and stuff like that. They were very, very accommodating at allowing some schedule flexibility with what I needed to do and were very supportive of prioritizing, taking care of my family.”

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Brooke was on maternity leave from her work at the time of Connor’s diagnosis and currently works on an as-needed basis.

In October 2021, they returned to Memphis with Connor for post-treatment scans, Brooke said. Two new brain tumors were found and removed in surgery. That was followed by proton therapy radiation. He finished treatment in December.

“He has a permanent brain shunt to help drain that fluid from his brain down his spine,” Brooke said, because of the tumor and scar tissue interfering with his body’s ability to naturally drain the fluid.

Brooke said Connor's medical tests in February were good and he is doing “great.”

“We go back in two weeks for scans but are beyond blessed with how good he’s doing,” she said. “With brain tumors or any type of childhood cancer, children can lose the ability to walk and to talk and they may have eye drooping or mouth drooping. The chemo causes permanent hearing loss. There’s all kinds of side effects from the surgeries and the chemo and the radiation, and Connor has rocked all of them and has no deficits whatsoever. Nothing physical. No hearing, no sight (issues), nothing, so we’re extremely, extremely blessed with how good he’s doing because we know how bad it can be.”

Connor will return every three months to St. Jude’s for a few years, Brooke said. She said, for Connor, the hospital world “is just his life. He doesn’t question it.”

When asked, Brooke said “it’s a lot on days,” to have four young children including one with a critical illness. She noted the support from people in Jamestown and other communities has been very important to them.

“There were so many people that stepped in to help with our other kids, so we couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.

“Other days, it’s - it’s terrifying, to be honest,” she said. “We have no idea what the scans are going to show when we go back in two weeks or three months after that. There’s a very high chance of reoccurrence in the first couple of years following treatment. So every day there’s always that thought in the back of your mind a little bit, like are we going to have to start this again or what happens if something happens. There’s just always those thoughts, but right now we’re just taking it day to day and trying to find a normal routine for the kids and for us.”

Granting a wish

It was during the family’s time in Tennessee that they connected with Make-A-Wish, Brooke said. Make-A-Wish serves children between the ages of 2 ½ and 18, according to wish.org. Children served by Make-A-Wish may have a critical or terminal illness.

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The group at Connor George's playset reveal poses for a photo afterward in the George's backyard. In center, left of Connor, is Kelli Just, Connor's wish granter from Make-A-Wish North Dakota.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

Kelli Just, of Berlin, North Dakota, was the wish granter for Connor and has been in touch with the family for months. She helped determine what Connor wanted for his wish and executed the wish reveal party on Friday.

“I was more than happy when I heard about Connor to have him as my wish child,” Just said.

Because of COVID, Just met with Connor and his parents over Zoom to learn more about his likes, which are camping, playing outside and taking trips, Brooke said.

After the choices were narrowed, Just said Make-A-Wish North Dakota then worked with Connor more to learn what he wanted.

“We really want to get to the heart of the child’s true wish,” Just said.

For Connor, Brooke said, his wish was all about his siblings.

“Connor is the most selfless boy that I have ever met,” Brooke said. “Even everything that he’s been through, he thinks of his brother and sisters over himself. So he wanted something that he could do with them. If it wasn’t something that his brother and sisters couldn’t do, he didn’t want it. So he wanted a playset to play with them outside ...”

Although the rain on Friday didn’t make conditions ideal for the wish reveal, they decided not to postpone it, Just said. And when Just found out that Connor loves Sonic the Hedgehog, she enlisted Sonic (Katrina Just, her daughter and assistant wish granter) to help lead Connor to his wish reveal.

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Connor George, center, gets ready to see his new playset, accompanied by Sonic the Hedgehog (portrayed by Katrina Just, an assistant wish granted through Make-A-Wish North Dakota), left.
Kathy Steiner / The Jamestown Sun

The playset from Dakota Playground, installed by Dakota Playground volunteers, includes swings, a slide, a sandbox and a playhouse. Sandbox toys and other items were also included.

For more information on Make-A-Wish North Dakota, visit www.wish.org .

Kathy Steiner has been the editor of The Jamestown Sun since 1995. She graduated from Valley City State College with a bachelor's degree in English and studied mass communications at North Dakota State University, Fargo. She reports on business, government and community topics in the Jamestown area. Reach her at 701-952-8449 or ksteiner@jamestownsun.com.
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