MYRTLE CREEK — Sixteen-year-old Casey Evans has loved being outdoors his entire life. He enjoys hunting, fishing and especially riding his all-terrain vehicle on his family’s ranch with his dog, Riley Blue, by his side.
About a year and half ago, the Myrtle Creek teen fell seriously ill and was unsure if he would ride again. He discovered he was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening disease that causes the heart to enlarge.
After a whirlwind of hospital visits, which included two open-heart surgeries, he received a new heart and a wish come true.
Just before Christmas, the Make-A-Wish Oregon Foundation granted Casey Evans a new side-by-side ATV through Absolute Motosport in Roseburg. About 30 family members from Redmond, Eugene and Southern California came to his home to celebrate.
The vehicle has a roll cage, seat belts, passenger seat and a bed in the back for Riley Blue.
Casey Evans said he knew the ATV was coming, but was surprised to have received such a new model.
“I have been riding it every day,” he said.
His mother, Jody Evans, 44, said he has to beg for gas.
The foundation had asked him during his first few hospital visits what his most heartfelt wish would be, and he said he wanted a new ATV so he could ride on the hill behind his house.
His ATV at the time was old and bumpy and didn’t have seat belts. It also didn’t have enough space for his dog.
“He wanted to be on the hill. That’s his happy place,” Jody Evans said. “We had to find some way to get him back up on his hill.”
In August 2012, Casey Evans was cutting wood at his home when he started having trouble breathing and his legs went numb, he said.
His family took him to Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg, from where he was flown to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.
“He had complete heart failure. All of his organs were shutting down,” Jody Evans said. “The hospital basically sent him home and said, ‘Make memories with him.’
“He’s had a bad heart since he was little, and we didn’t know it,” she said.
The family brought him home, but in a few weeks his condition worsened. They took him to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, where Doernbecher Children’s Hospital picked him up.
It was then that the Oregon Health & Science University stepped in. Its doctors asked to treat him as an adult and put in an electric heart pump.
Doctors said a Left Ventricular Assist Device would keep him alive while he waited for a new heart.
“We wanted to try anything,” Jody Evans said. “They said he had a heart of a 90-year-old man.”
Casey Evans spent the next several months adjusting to the pump and recuperating.
He had to carry around a 13-pound pack for the device for about a year.
Jody Evans said it didn’t stop him from shooting hoops at school or going on another hunting trip.
“It gave him normal life again,” she said.
“We just lived one day at a time and made memories every day. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” she said.
On Sept. 14, 2013, OHSU put Casey Evans on its transplant list.
The hospital called the family the next day to say a heart was available.
That morning he was given a new heart.
“The doctor said it was the most boring heart transplant he’s ever done. There were no complications,” Jody Evans said.
Casey Evans returned to Riddle High School this month, after spending time recovering from the surgery.
“It was good to see all of my friends,” he said.
He said the most important thing he’s learned from his experience is to appreciate life every day.
“You never think about it until something goes wrong,” he said.
• Reporter Jessica Prokop can be reached at 541-957-4209 and email@example.com.