As the principal of Edgerton Elementary School on South Hill, Lisa Rowan interacts and works with many students on a one-on-one basis.
So when she received a handwritten letter from sixth-grader Spencer Hensley, asking if he could run a fundraiser for fellow student Connor McKenna, she was pleasantly surprised.
“He’d done his research on why Connor needs this, and he had a plan,” Rowan said. “I was touched. It was the first time somebody said ‘I want to do a fundraiser for a student.’”
He’d done his research on why Connor needs this, and he had a plan ... I was touched. It was the first time somebody said ‘I want to do a fundraiser for a student.’
Lisa Rowan, principal at Edgerton Elementary
Connor, 12, was diagnosed with Compulse Syncope in 2014, which causes him to temporarily lose consciousness due to a fall in blood pressure. In 2016, he was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or P.O.T.S., which causes him to faint unexpectedly due to reduced blood volume to the brain while standing up.
Connor’s mom, Heidi McKenna, spends 24 hours a day with him in case an episode occurs. In November, she started an online donation website on YouCaring.com to raise money to buy a service dog. The service dog would be trained to understand when Connor needs help.
“The dog would be able to detect his episodes before they’re happening,” Heidi said. And if by chance the dog doesn’t detect them beforehand, it can at least “catch him before he falls.”
The dog would be able to detect his episodes before they’re happening.
Heidi McKenna, Connor’s mom
The first major hurdle is to raise $25,000, which is the cost of the dog to be trained by Little Angels Service Dogs from Southern California. This money must be fully funded before Connor is put on the waiting list. The McKennas are raising an extra $5,000 for the flight to California and the time it takes for the dog to get acquainted with Connor.
Heidi said the process can take anywhere from three months to five years. The Puyallup School District has already approved a service dog for Connor.
“This school in particular has been incredibly supportive,” she said.
The dog would provide not only much-needed safety for Connor, but more independence. Currently, Connor is only at school for about half a day, and when he is, his mother attends class with him.
“I would like to see my friends again,” Connor said about having to leave school often.
Connor and Hensley have known each other since third grade. Hensley found out that Connor and his family were raising money for a service dog at Connor’s birthday party in November.
Hensley’s father, who was recently paralyzed during a surgery, made bracelets as a part of physical therapy, and suggested to his son an idea to make bracelets to raise money for Connor.
“My dad always wants to help people and he asked me if I wanted to do a fundraiser,” said 11-year-old Hensley. “That’s where the idea came from.”
My dad always wants to help people and he asked me if I wanted to do a fundraiser. That’s where the idea came from.
Spencer Hensley, sixth grader at Edergton Elementary
After writing his letter to Rowan, Hensley got to work making bracelets. His goal was to raise $500, and spent lunch and recess time selling the bracelets along with his friends Cole Bryant and Kale Petscho.
“We wanted to start small with fifth and sixth grade lunches … then opened up third and fourth grade (lunches),” Rowan said. “It grew bigger, and (Hensley) had help. People just wanted to give.”
Hensley also sold bracelets outside of school, at the workplaces of some family members. Over time, he raised over $1,000 from the school alone.
“Some days we made over $100,” Bryant said.
Some students knew about Connor’s condition, while others asked questions about him and other ways they could help. Some even donated larger quantities of money.
The fundraiser for Connor came to a close last week, but the McKenna family is still accepting donations on its YouCaring online site. The family is a third of the way to completing its goal.
Both Connor and Heidi want to thank Hensley for doing what he could for them.
(Hensley is) an amazing kid. One who I hope my son will have in his life-long term. Our family will forever be grateful for (Hensley’s) kindness and perseverance it took to make this happen. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
“(Hensley is) an amazing kid,” Heidi said. “One who I hope my son will have in his life longterm. Our family will forever be grateful for (Hensley’s) kindness and perseverance it took to make this happen. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”