Hermiston seventh grader Tanner Gutcher got a surprise visit from the Portland Trail Blazers last week while he was hospitalized at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Tanner, who has a genetic disorder called Angelman syndrome, is in the life skills program at Sandstone Middle School and plays Challenger baseball. His mom, Lacey McElroy, said he was thrilled to meet some real-life sports stars.

“Tanner was crazy, crazy excited,” she said. “He could not stop laughing.”

Angelman syndrome comes from a missing part of the 15th chromosome inherited from the mother. The more of the chromosome a person is missing, the more intense their symptoms. McElroy said Tanner’s case is more severe and keeps him from walking or talking and causes seizures and other health problems. He was rushed to Doernbecher at 2 a.m. Nov. 28 for a digestive complication.

The Mayo Clinic website notes that “Frequent smiles and outbursts of laughter are common for people with Angelman syndrome, and many have happy, excitable personalities.” Despite his many challenges, McElroy said Tanner is an “excessively happy” kid.

Still, being in the hospital is never fun, so the visit from the Blazers was a welcome distraction. Point guards Damian Lillard and Shabazz Napier visited Tanner’s room first, along with mascot Blaze. Later, several other members of the team and coaching staff came in for a photo, and Tanner got a Trail Blazers hat and signed poster.

“They were great when we asked for pictures and everything,” McElroy said.

She said she and Tanner turned on the television and watched the Blazers play the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.

“It’s cool to watch and say, ‘Hey, we met them,’” she said.

She said Tanner spent most of the first two years of his life at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and has made many visits since, so she’s grateful that the hospital provides not only excellent care but also morale-boosting activities like the Blazers visit.

“Doernbecher is absolutely amazing,” she said. “They have saved Tanner’s life on more than one occasion.”

Back home, she said the Sandstone Middle School staff has also been very supportive in accommodating Tanner’s frequent absences due to hospitalizations. Two other huge supports, she said, are Tanner’s grandmother Ginger McElroy and his stepfather Tanner Daughtery.

As of Thursday Tanner was still in the hospital. McElroy said she hoped they would be given the OK to go home soon. But in the meantime, he still had his Blazers hat and poster to cheer him up.

“He likes sports a lot, so having the guys come up was an awesome experience,” she said.


Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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