“American Idol” Scotty McCreery threw out the first pitch for Tuesday night’s Triple-A National Championship Game, but he wasn’t the only celebrity at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Ten-year-old Blaise McNair of West End was a guest in the dugout with the Pawtucket Red Sox – the minor league affiliate of his favorite team, the Boston Red Sox – shook hands with the team’s coach, and got a signed baseball from the team, and was introduced to all of the mascots at the game by Sean Bunn, the head of Triangle Red Sox Nation.
Three months ago, and with no warning, Blaise was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, called DIPG.
“Unfortunately, the diagnosis is considered one of the worst a parent could get,” said Jim Wasley. He would know. Wasley’s daughter Meg, who was 7 when she was diagnosed, died of DIPG.
DIPG is a tumor that grows among the nerves within the brainstem. Surgery is not an option because the brainstem is responsible for vital functions such as breathing, swallowing and movement. It affects approximately 200 children each year.
During his daughter’s treatment, Meg was treated to a shopping spree by a foundation organized to make children happy while battling serious illnesses. As part of her shopping spree, Meg was given the opportunity to brighten another patient’s day with some gifts.
“It made her happy to help others,” Wasley said. Thus the idea of Meg’s Smile Foundation was born. It is similar to the Make-A-Wish foundation but operates on a more local level, and draws patients from the children’s hospitals at UNC and Duke.
“I know what it’s like as a parent to go through that, and it’s a horrible situation,” Wasley said. His foundation has helped offer 20 “smiles” – from shopping sprees with limousine rides to tickets to a Scotty McCreery concert – since it started.
Last month, Meg’s Smile sent Blaise and his mother, Linda McNair, to Boston to see his Red Sox play and tour the famous Fenway Park.
Bunn, who pulled together all of his Boston Red Sox contacts to make both special days happen for Blaise, said, “He’s inspired me to try to put together my own ‘Smile.’”
A bit shy, Blaise wasn’t up for going onto the baseball diamond for the singing of the national anthem. He stayed close to his mom throughout the game. He did declare his recent trip to Boston was “cool.”
The cancer came on without warning.
“On Thursday night, he played in a baseball game, and on Saturday we took him into the hospital,” Linda McNair said. She said he showed signs of a stroke. The right side of his body had gone numb and looked paralyzed.
During June and July, they made daily trips to Duke Hospital. Now, they go once a week for chemotherapy treatments.
Each “smile” relies on local sponsors, and the team of volunteers that makes up the foundation.
With the cooperation of the PawSox team, Bunn was able to give McNair a check for one thousand dollars at the end of the game that he raised from selling baseballs signed by the team.