Local Dream Factory grants Mexico teen's wish to meet Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
Mexico High School freshman Arion VanVactor considers himself one lucky fella. Not many 15-year-old boys can say that they have met and taken photographs with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, been down on the Cowboys stadium field during pre-game festivities and hung out with the team mascot, Rowdy.
Arion has done all three.
He and his family made the 10.5 hour trip to Dallas by car, just before Christmas, with a one night layover in Oklahoma, to fulfill Arion's dream that was granted through The Dream Factory of Audrain County.
Arion has "Neurofibromatosis 2," a genetic disorder in which tumors form on the nerves of the brain and spine (the central nervous system). Symptoms of NF2 include: balance problems; cataracts at a young age; changes in vision, among conditions. He was diagnosed in March 2012, and underwent a 30-hour surgery shortly after learning about his condition. He spent many days in the hospital, and now takes chemotherapy every other week to prevent the growth of tumors.
"No one was expecting his recovery to be where it is," said Arion's mother, Jessica VanVactor. She said Arion's balance is a "little off" because his hearing nerves are affected and he still has a tumor on his left nerve. "We expected the best, but we were also hesitant. But, he has made a miraculous recovery."
Jessica said Arion has a sensory processing disorder and some limited function in his right arm, but nothing stopped him from enjoying his time in Dallas. He went sight-seeing, visited a few Dallas fire stations. Arion wants to be a policeman, but he's also fascinated with the fire fighting career.
While most of Arion's classmates were attending class and dealing with Missouri winter temperatures, he was enjoying a 70-degree climate, was in the company of a "bunch of pretty girls" and had a great seat in the stadium with a perfect view, when the Cowboys beat the Steelers. It was a perfect day, Arion said.
"I got a signed calendar of the cheerleaders. I also got Jerome Henderson to sign my football after he played catch with me. Jerome Henderson is the defensive coach for the Cowboys team. Tony Romo is my favorite player. I didn't get to meet him, but I did see him and got a picture in front of his locker," Arion told The Ledger. He has one word to sum up his thoughts about his visit to Dallas and the Audrain County Dream Factory, "Awesome."
"Thank you very much for fulfilling my dream," he said.
Jessica VanVactor said the trip "was definitely a once-in-a-life-time experience" for her son, and was just what he needed. His journey from sickness to recovery has been tough. He's in remission and the tumors have stopped growing for now. The trip, she said "gave him the opportunity to put things on hold a little bit and get back to being a normal kid."
Arion is the son of Craig VanVactor of Laddonia and Jessica VanVactor of Mexico. He's involved in Boy Scouts and working towards earning Eagle Scout. He has one older sister, Patience, who is 16.
Dream Factory, Inc., is an organization granting dreams to children with critical and chronic illnesses who are 3 through 18 years of age. Arion was dream 196 for the Audrain County Dream Chapter.
In 1980, The Dream Factory began with one all-volunteer chapter in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Since then, The Dream Factory has grown into the second-largest children's wish-granting organization in the United States, granting more than 25,000 dreams since its inception – all while maintaining a grassroots approach. The Dream Factory continues to operate all 38 of its local chapters with more than 5,000 dedicated volunteers. These hard-working individuals raise funds within their own communities and then use those funds to grant the dreams of local children. Money raised by The Dream Factory is used directly to grant dreams.
The Dream Factory is the only children's wish-granting organization that does not limit its mission to children who have life-threatening illness. The organization believes children with chronic illnesses and disorders also suffer from substantial emotional and physical pain.
The Dream Factory strives to provide hope and relief from the trauma and corresponding stress and depression that both the children and their families can endure on a day-to-day basis. Doctors agree that providing a dream can improve the quality of life for these children and extend the life of a critically ill child.
The Audrain County chapter was established in 1991. It was a sub-chapter with the Central Missouri Dream Factory in Fulton. The Audrain County Chapter covers Northeast Missouri, and tries to grant at least 2-3 dreams a year. Members meet at 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce.
"It's helping a child with chronic or critical illness enjoy one special time in their life," said local chapter member Bonnie Silvey. "Every year we hold two fundraisers – Chairs for Charity and a golf tournament at the Country Club – to help. New members are always welcome."