At the age of 11, Kayden Harder has gone through more life-altering challenges than many of us face in a lifetime. When he was around four or five, Harder started to have a reaction to being in sunlight, and was subsequently diagnosed as epileptic. Several years later he found out that his mother, Kristen, has breast cancer. Most recently, last June he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was at this point that Harder was referred to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
As is standard practise at Make-A-Wish, he was given three wishes. His number one wish was to meet Connor McDavid, captain of the Edmonton Oilers, and that wish came true on January 30 in Edmonton.
In his battle with epilepsy, Harder has had up to 100 seizures per day when in sunlight for too long, said Kristen.
“Last summer he got very sick and his kidneys were failing. He had to be transferred to Saskatoon,” said Kristen. “After his diagnosis with diabetes, his pediatric neurologist referred him to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The form of epilepsy he has is very treatment resistant, so we are waiting to go to Vancouver for more evaluation and treatment.”
Harder was approved by Make-A-Wish in August, and when he found out, “he was so thankful that he cried.”
Initially, Harder met a representative from Make-A-Wish, and was asked to make three wishes. His choices were:
- Meet Connor McDavid
- Attend the NHL All Star Game in St. Louis
- Be featured in a MoreJStu video, where young people do various fun staff and have it streamed on YouTube.
Harder plays hockey for the Canora Peewee Cobras, so it was hardly a surprise that his first two choices were hockey related. He also plays lacrosse for the Sturgis Trojans and runs on the cross-country team at CCS (Canora Composite School). Added to his very active lifestyle, after his diagnosis with diabetes he had to find time to take seven daily insulin injections spread throughout the day.
“Cross-country races are often at noon, so that tends to conflict with his noon injection,” said Kristen. “Of course, hockey games are at all different times, so it becomes quite a challenge.”
A representative from Make-A-Wish met with Kayden for an in-depth discussion in an effort to thoroughly get to know him. From this interview, the recommendation was made to grant the Connor McDavid wish.
“The representatives and all their staff are really incredible people,” said Kristen. “Their co-ordinator told me, ‘I have the best job in the world.’ It’s amazing how they care about these kids so much.”
Kristen said the rest of the family, including brother Brandon and father Bryan, found out about the decision around the beginning of December, but purposefully kept Kayden in the dark until a special Grades 5 to 8 assembly was held at CCS on January 24, where most of the students weren’t really sure what was going on.
“Two of the teachers, Dustin Nielsen and Curtis Baillie, set it up as hockey-related challenges and activities,” recalled Kristen. “But near the end they said, “there’s one more thing that’s never happened at CCS,” and then they played the Make-A-Wish reveal video where Kayden found out he was going to meet Connor McDavid. He was so overwhelmed, he put his head down and may have been crying, I couldn’t tell. But everyone applauded and they were all patting him on the back. It was really special.”
On January 27, the Harder family was off to Edmonton. The entire trip was courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“On the flight, the West Jet crew announced Kayden’s Make-A-Wish trip and everyone on the plane applauded,” said Kristen. “He even got to meet the pilot.
“When we got to Edmonton, we were treated so well. We received limousine transportation everywhere. Brandon and Kayden had never even been in a limo before.”
During their time in Edmonton, the Harder family stayed at the Fantasyland Hotel and had passes to all the attractions in the West Edmonton Mall, including the Waterpark and Marine Life.
On January 29 the Canora family attended a game in Edmonton between the Oilers and their archrivals from Calgary, which was won by the Flames in a shootout.
“We all got to fist bump the Oilers before the game,” said Kristen.
The Harder family was in private seats during the game, served by their own waitress.
The next day the Harders received a full tour of Rogers Arena, attended an Oilers practise and got invited into the team’s dressing room.
“We met a number of the Oilers staff and the players,” said Kristen. “They were all so wonderful, they stopped and talked to us and made us all feel welcome.”
McDavid didn’t practise that day, but he joined them in the dressing room and was introduced to Kayden.
“At first Kayden was acting all casual and said, “Hey Connor” but then he got pretty nervous,” recalled Kristen. “He gave Kayden his jersey with his name and number on it and they had a nice conversation. He put on a Canora Cougars T-shirt and shot a video with Kayden, wishing everyone on his Canora Peewee Cobras hockey team the best of luck in their upcoming games.”
Harder took part in a media scrum, where he was given a microphone and had the opportunity to ask the players questions, just like a sports reporter.
Another special moment came when Harder signed a one-day contract with the Oilers, brought to him by one of the team’s coaches.
“Spending time with the Oilers and meeting Connor McDavid, one of his idols, was Kayden’s dream,” said Kristen. “When we, as a family, look back on the experience now, it seems kind of surreal. I still almost don’t believe it actually happened.”
But it did happen. And Kayden and his family have the life-long memories to prove it.