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news News Thursday, May 17, 2018 Thursday, May 17, 2018 12:51 PM - Thursday, May 17, 2018 12:51 PM

Former patient and his dad embark on a new adventure

Former patient and his dad embark on a new adventure

David and Michael Ash have been taking adventures together for 20 years. As father and son, the pair have embarked on endeavors, including the Boy Scouts (with Michael obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout), camping excursions, community volunteerism, and numerous other long term initiatives as a dedicated duo. When son Michael proposed a new adventure through Masonry and the Shriners fraternity, David was equal to the task, knowing firsthand how the organizations make a difference in the lives of kids and families.

Born via emergency C-section at 26 weeks gestation and weighing less than 2 pounds, Michael spent the first several months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). During his time in the NICU, Michael developed an infection in his left foot due to a collapsed IV line. Unbeknownst to his care team and parents, the infection spread to Michael’s hip, resulting in a condition which hindered development of his right hip joint. By early childhood, the lack of a secure hip joint caused Michael’s leg to shift dramatically upward, resulting in a 3-inch difference in length from his left leg. With area physicians offering few options, the Ash family relied on a sizable lift in Michael’s shoe to compensate.

By 6th grade, Michael was well accustomed to his shoe lift. During a routine eye screening for students in his class at First Lutheran Church and School in Ponca City, Oklahoma, his gait caught the eye of Charles Woolever, a member of the Shriners Hospitals for Children — Shreveport Board of Governors and a longtime van driver for the Akdar Shriners of Tulsa, Oklahoma. After watching Michael navigate the room, Woolever made a connection with Michael’s mother Ramona, who was there volunteering for the eye screening.

“One thing I’ve learned to do is watch how kids walk,” Woolever remarked. “I could see that he was walking with a sizeable lift on his shoe and I immediately thought hey, we can help this young man. So after the screening I walked over to his mother, introduced myself, and told her I think we can help your son.”

With Woolever’s assistance, the family made arrangements to make the 430-mile trip to Shriners Hospitals for Children — Shreveport for assessment. Physicians initially performed a procedure on Michael’s left leg to limit growth and allow the right leg to ‘catch up’. Later, Michael underwent a full hip replacement surgery, with physicians providing a hip ball and socket joint with an extension that would allow his right leg to equal the length of his left leg. While still in the recovery room following his hip replacement, Michael told his dad of his wish to become a Shriner.

“We do everything together, and when he said he wanted to become a Shriner I told him yes, we could do that,” David recalled. “It really hit home to me, seeing how appreciative I was of everything and how we had a really good feel for how the system worked and what it was about, so when he asked if we could join I said yes we can and we’ve done it as a team the whole way.”

Ready to begin a new adventure together, the pair approached Woolever, who helped guide them through the process of becoming Masons. Upon becoming Master Masons, the pair promptly petitioned for membership with Akdar Shriners. In an emotional ceremony, both Michael and David received their fezzes with Woolever proudly looking on.

“As a Shriner, I’ve often remarked how our ‘payday’ is when we get to see how our efforts have truly impacted a child and their family,” Woolever said. “To see this young man, healthy and becoming a Shriner alongside his father – that was certainly a payday moment and that’s what being a Shriner is all about.”

Now officially a Shrine-affiliated family, David, Michael and mother Ramona (who subsequently joined the Ladies Oriental Shrine of North America) are carrying the efforts of the fraternity and hospital system to other families in need. Having recently completed his first trip as an Akdar van driver alongside Michael, David sees a valuable role in encouraging anxious families who are going where he has gone before, with an opportunity to offer support and understanding.

“Every parent has dreams and aspirations for their kids, and when you look at your child and you see something that may keep them from that it can be very traumatic,” he said. “One of the things that this hospital does and that the Shriners do as a group is help parents work through this. Now that we’re on this side of the fence, we can give that kind of focus to our families and let them know that we are here to help.”

As for Michael, his new role as a Shriner represents a new opportunity to assist others with his father by his side. As a college junior and an aspiring commercial airline pilot with an eye on space tourism, Michael has many exciting adventures on the horizon. Wherever his plans may lead, he and his family will always have a unique connection with fellow Shriners, patient families, and the hospital system that helped put all his goals within reach.

“My dad and I do everything together, and so it was really neat becoming a Shriner with him,” Michael remarked. “Now that we have accomplished this goal, we can go out and help everyone that we can in the same way that Shriners International and Shriners Hospitals for Children have helped us."

Shriners Hospitals for Children — Shreveport