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A.J. Nye warmed his hands near a fire barrel at the Whitehouse Christmas Tree Farm yesterday as dozens of people looked for their perfect holiday tree.
It was the ideal setting for the season, with a light snow dusting tree branches. But A.J. couldn't take it all in for long.
In need of a liver and intestine transplant, the 10-year-old Toledo boy was at the farm for only a short while to help pick out a Christmas tree, take a horse-drawn wagon ride around the farm, and thank those tree shoppers who, with their purchase, were helping his family pay for the expenses of his life-saving transplant.
"I'm impressed that everybody is doing this for me," said A.J., scratching the blond hair hidden under his hat. "People are asking me a lot of questions. I say I'm feeling good, but my stomach hurts a lot now."
A.J. was born in August, 1994, with gastroschisis, a condition where the large and small intestines developed outside of the abdomen. Since birth, A.J. has been in and out of hospitals undergoing surgeries. Before his third birthday, A.J. received an intestine transplant, and after his recovery was able to enjoy eating.
Nearly four years ago, A.J. began having problems, his mother, Allison Irons, said. And that, once again, changed the boy's life.
For the last three years, A.J. has been fed intravenously from a bag he carries in a backpack. His skin is tinged with yellow as his liver continues to deteriorate. But his spirits are high, and he said he's
looking forward to celebrating an early Christmas with his family before heading to Omaha with his mother, where he will await a transplant.
The family is trying to raise $80,000 for the cost of the surgery not covered by insurance.
People combed the Whitehouse tree farm to find the perfect Scotch pine or Douglas fir, with some of them taking advantage of the hot chocolate and hot dogs on hand. Duke Wheeler, the tree farm's owner, promised to donate $5 from the purchase of each tree to A.J.'s family to help out.
Yesterday's tree sales, one of several fund-raising efforts for A.J.'s medical expenses, raised $1,750. Four people gave donations totaling $2,500, and there are containers filled with money and checks yet to be opened, Mr. Wheeler said.
"We've had people who say they have fake trees, but stopped by to donate some money anyway," Mr. Wheeler said as he and volunteers helped cut, carry, and wrap the trees. "This is what Christmas is all about."
The tree farm on Obee Road will donate money to A.J.'s family from the sale of trees today.
Lisa Lorenz and her mother, Cindy Young, have been going to the tree farm for years. Yesterday, they maintained the tradition, knowing they were helping out a very special 10-year-old.
"We'll think of A.J. every time we look at our tree," Ms. Young, of Maumee, said of the seven-foot tree she purchased.
Phillip and Jill Galusha brought their two children to the farm yesterday after seeing A.J.'s story on the local news. Having two children right around A.J.'s age, Mrs. Galusha said she couldn't envision a better way to spend her Saturday morning than choosing a Christmas tree with her family while helping someone else.
Seven-year-old Bridget agreed. "It kind of makes me feel good," she said.
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