A young boy with a rare heart ailment had the trip of a lifetime Sunday when he was the guest of honor at the Minnesota Vikings' home game against the Carolina Panthers.
Four-year-old Ryder Smith, of Blooming Prairie, was the special guest of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, whose son T.J suffers from the same condition – hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS), ABC 6 reports.
Smith's name was drawn out of a ballot of fellow HLHS sufferers after Olsen announced during a Mayo Clinic HLHS event last month he would host a family at the Vikings game. Olsen's family is taking part in an HLHS study with the Rochester-based clinic, as is the Smith family.
While Olsen left TCF Bank dejected following his team's 31-13 beating, he certainly left smiles on the faces of the Smith family, who joined Olsen on the field before the kick-off.
“We got to go down on the field, and we got to see all the players and meet Ragnar," Ryder's father, Jared Smith, told ABC 6.
“We talked to Greg, and we took some pictures and talked about how we can relate."
HLHS is a congenital heart defect that affects around 960 children born in the USA each year, and since he was born Smith has undergone three major surgeries at the Mayo Clinic, FOX 9 reports.
Olsen has suffered similar heartache with his son T.J., taking time off from practice in August when his son underwent open heart surgery, his third operation since he was born in 2012, according to ESPN.
Olsen also runs his own charity, Receptions for Research, which he established in 2009 to raise money for research into cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
"It's nice to see a kid who's older than my son doing so well," Olsen told FOX 9. "Very few people know what the journey is like, and that's something that we share."
What is HLHS?
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome causes the left side of the heart to not form correctly as a baby develops during pregnancy, affecting the blood flow through the heart, according to the CDC.
The CDC estimates the condition affects 960 babies born in America each year, or 1 in 4,344 children.
After the baby is born, it struggles to get oxygen-rich blood pumping around the body. Early symptoms that present themselves include problems breathing, a pounding heart, a weak pulse, or an ashen or bluish skin color.
The Mayo Clinic says that HLHS requires an "aggressive" surgical strategy, with three operations required in the early years of the child's life to reconstruct the heart and improve blood flow to the body.