Making the trip of a lifetime

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 01, 2013 12:08 pm


With the help of life-long best friend Drake Jones, left, Ty Van Lith checks out one of the gifts he received at a dinner in his honor at Mamacita’s in La Grande Friday. Chris Baxter/The Observer
With the help of life-long best friend Drake Jones, left, Ty Van Lith checks out one of the gifts he received at a dinner in his honor at Mamacita’s in La Grande Friday. Chris Baxter/The Observer

La Grande Middle School student gets trip to attend WrestleMania through Make-A-Wish Foundation

by Dick Mason/The Observer

At age 14, Ty Van Lith of La Grande has made more visits to hospitals for medical treatment than many people do in a lifetime. 

One would not know it, though, judging by Ty’s upbeat attitude and the bright smile which frequently lights up his face. 

It is a smile which will have added luminosity this weekend when Ty travels to East Rutherford, N.J., for the experience of his young life. The La Grande Middle School student will attend professional wrestling’s premier event, “WrestleMania,” at MetLife Stadium courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon.

“I’m very excited, I’m really happy, I’m thrilled,” the LMS eighth-grader said Friday at a send-off party.

Ty, the son of Mike and Lisa Van Lith, has been a professional wrestling fan since he was about 4, closely following all WWE events. What does he like most about professional wrestling? 

“Everything,” said Ty’s mom.

Ty records all televised WWE events and has a collection of at least 40 professional wrestling action figures. His mother recalled that Ty was so taken by professional wrestling years ago that he once practiced moves of WWE stars in his family’s home. 

Ty will be one of about 92,000 fans attending WrestleMania, which concludes Sunday with a televised pay-per-view event featuring 10 matches in one evening, including a highly anticipated rematch between DeWayne “The Rock’’ Johnson and John Cena. The clash Ty is most excited about is between Triple H, the “Cerebral Assassin,” and Brock Lesnar. Triple H, whose real name is Paul Michael Levesque, is Ty’s favorite professional wrestler.

Ty will be one of 50 youths from throughout the United States attending WrestleMania on behalf of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The foundation grants wishes to children and teenagers afflicted with serious health issues. 

Ty suffers from hypo plastic left heart syndrome. This means much of the left side of his heart never developed. Ty had open heart surgery in 1998, 1999 and 2001 because of his condition. 

The eighth-grader is also afflicted with scoliosis, a condition in which one’s spine is curved from side to side. He had surgery for it in early February. Doctors were worried that Ty may not have recovered from the surgery fast enough to attend WrestleMania. Fortunately, he has recovered to the point that doctors gave him the green light to make the trip to New Jersey. 

Ty now has rods in his back, which means he has to avoid twisting his back and has to be careful while bending. 

 Through all of his medical trials Ty rarely if ever complains. 

“He takes everything in stride,” his father, Mike, said. “He just loves doctors.”

Lisa Van Lith added that doctors also like Ty because of the thoughtful questions he asks of them. 

“He is a good patient,” Lisa Van Lith said. 

Ty will be accompanied by his parents to WrestleMania thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon.

“The Make-a-Wish Foundation has been tremendous. It has taken care of everything,” Lisa Van Lith said.

Locally, the Van Lith family has been working with Make-A-Wish through Val Decker and her daughter, Angie Benintendi, both of La Grande. Decker and Benintendi represent the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Oregon in the area extending from Ontario to Hermiston. 

In East Rutherford, the Van Liths will attend VIP events developed for them. The families have not been told of all them but they do know they will include a dinner and autograph session with wrestlers. 

“(Ty) is a little excited about that,” his mom said.