GC boy makes wish to meet Smoke at NASCAR event

 Grove City resident Jacob Copland, 7, sits inside Tony Stewart’s race car in Daytona Beach, Fla. Copland, who has hypoplastic left heart syndrome, got to meet Stewart thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

 Tony Stewart poses with the starstruck Copland before the NASCAR race on July 7.

Some people go their entire lives without having their dreams come true. That is not the case for 7-year-old Jacob Copland.

Copland, a second-grade student at J.C. Sommer Elementary School, got to meet his hero, NASCAR Nextel Cup Driver Tony Stewart. Copland and his family left for Daytona Beach, Fla., on July 4 to see a NASCAR race featuring Stewart. The trip was made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Copland was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a congenital heart defect.

"Basically he has half of a heart," said Copland’s mother Linda.

The left side of Copland’s heart, including the aorta, aortic valve, left ventricle and the mitral valve, is underdeveloped. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), babies born with the  defect seem normal at birth but will show symptoms in the first few days of life. The babies can become ashen, have rapid breathing, and have difficulty breathing and feeding.

"I knew right away there was something wrong with him," said Linda. "He looked blue and would not eat."

The defect is usually fatal within the first days or months of life if not treated. Copland was just 5 days old when he had his first open-heart surgery. He had a second operation when he was 8 months old and a third when he was 1 year old. Linda explained that her son will be on medication for the rest of his life. Every six months he sees a cardiologist.

"He will not be able to play competitive sports and he always has to protect his chest. He is also more prone to get infections and viruses," she said. "Other than that, he’s a normal kid."

One day the Copland family was watching a show on Sports Center when they saw a story about a child with hypoplastic left heart syndrome who got a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They decided to apply.

In order for a child to be considered for a wish, they must be between the ages of 2 and 18. They must be diagnosed with a progressive, degenerative or a malignant condition, that has placed the child’s life in jeopardy.

More than anything, Copland wanted to meet Stewart, the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Cup Champion, Stewart. Although Copland was starstruck, he enjoyed meeting his hero watching the race.

"It was cool," said Copland who has been a racing fan "forever." He added, "I like it because they go fast."

Stewart races car 20 for Home Depot. Copland got to sit in the car, one he has watched so many time on television.

"It was really neat. Orange is my favorite color and that’s why I like the car," said Copland.

Not only did Copland meet his favorite celebrity, he got to take home an autographed hat and a toy replica of the car Stewart drives.

Stewart also got something special to remember the occasion. Copland gave Stewart a good luck cat, just like the one he takes with him in all his surgeries.

"We don’t know how much luck it brought Tony though. He wrecked during the race," said Linda.

Stewart finished in last (43rd) place in the race on July 7.

"It was fun anyway and we got to go to I-Hop," said Copland of his trip to Florida.

The trip was fully paid for by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. According to the organization, it is their goal to create a memorable experience for both the child and the family that is not clouded by financial concerns. The average cost of a wish is $6,200.

Meeting Stewart and watching him race was Copland’s first wish. His second wish was to go to Walt Disney World. His family is grateful to have his main wish come true.

"It was such a great experience," said Linda. "It was one that he will remember the rest of his life."

The Make-A-Wish Foundation is the nation’s largest wish granting organization, helping more than 144,000 children around the world. To learn more about the organization or to donate log onto www.wish.org.

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