‘He didn’t fight so hard not to live’: Quincy teen finally takes Make-A-Wish trip with family

Eli Campos

Eli Campos and members of his family made a trip to Las Vegas in October thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. | Photo courtesy of Dawnall Haston

QUINCY — Eli Campos didn’t get to travel internationally like he had hoped, and he had to wait several years longer than he wanted to travel at all.

However, the five-day trip to Las Vegas in October with his family — his brother Blake; his mother, Dawnall Haston; his father, John Campos; his stepfather, Lee Haston, and his grandmother — through the Make-A-Wish Foundation was still worth the wait. Eli got to zipline over the Grand Canyon, watch a performance of Cirque du Soleil and race a sports car at Speed Vegas. 

“I was probably looking forward to zip lining the most, but I think the Cirque du Soleil show was probably the highlight,” he said.

Eli has battled health issues since he was born.

He was born in October 2004 with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital heart defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. Eli required two surgeries in his first two months. 

“When he was born, doctors gave us the option of taking him home with hospice or doing three palliative (non-curable but life-extending) surgeries,” Dawnall said.

He also had a rare disorder called heterotaxy syndrome in which his stomach, spleen, liver and gall bladder are in the wrong places.

Eli learned he needed heart transplant at age 13

The third surgery, called the Fontan surgery, was conducted when Eli was 2.

“That’s when everything’s kind of rerouted (in his body) so his heart doesn’t have to pump twice to get blood everywhere,” Dawnall said.

Eli then had no problems for the next 10 years. His mother contacted Make-A-Wish organizers when he was 13.

“We always knew he would most likely qualify for Make-A-Wish,” Dawnall said. “We waited until he was old enough to really think about what he wanted to do instead of, you know, just go to Disney, and waited until his personality developed more.

“Then he got a call when he was 13 and (organizers) said, ‘Hey, he qualifies for a wish. Let’s get together and figure it out.’ That also was the day we found out he needed a heart transplant.”

The Fontan surgery eventually had put too much pressure on Eli’s heart and liver.

“The liver started to dysfunction,” Dawnall said. “Then the heart started to dysfunction, and it was beating really hard.”

Eli’s heart transplant happened Aug. 11, 2018, on his 14th birthday. As her son’s body accepted the new organ, Dawnall said she never realized how sickly and bluish her son looked until he received the transplant. 

However, she said having the transplant didn’t eliminate all of Eli’s problems. 

“He’s taking anti-rejection medications, so that affects him quite a bit,” she said. “It affects his skin. Sometimes he gets mouth sores from the medications. Now he can’t eat one of his favorite foods (sushi).”

Eli Campos underwent heart transplant surgery on Aug. 11, 2018, his 14th birthday. | Photo courtesy of Dawnall Campos

COVID prevented Eli from traveling to Thailand

As Eli recovered from the transplant, Dawnall reapplied two years later for the Make-A-Wish grant. However, that was at the beginning of the pandemic. Eli’s wish to travel to Thailand wasn’t possible because of restrictions on international travel.

“When people think of Eastern culture, they usually think about places like Japan,” Eli said. “Everyone wants to go there, but I thought, let’s try somewhere else.”

As the granting of Eli’s Make-A-Wish trip kept getting delayed, he found out he could still travel as long as he did it before he turned 25.

“We knew that going international would be a very long wait, so we just looked at what did the U.S. have to offer that would kind of include everything we wanted to do,” Dawnall said.

Despite all the health issues her son faced, Dawnall was determined to give him a normal upbringing.

“That’s what I promised him when he was born,” she said. “I promised him I would not treat him like a sick kid. We just kind of ignored those signs for the roller coasters that said, ‘If you have a heart problem …” Instead, we jumped off the stratosphere. We do all this fun stuff because that’s what he wants to do. He didn’t fight so hard not to live. We’ve always talked about how we’re just going to do it up and wing it. Have fun and have a good life.”

“I knew (about the risk), just like everyone else knew,” Eli said. “But I really didn’t think about it that much.”

‘I always told him when he was a kid that chicks dig scars’

Eli graduated from Quincy High School in May but doesn’t have future plans now. He wants to attend college, but he’s not sure where.

“Because of (the Make-A-Wish) trip, we allowed him to take a little hiatus,” Dawnall said. “Now that we’re back, we’re going to get on it. He’s really interested in neuroscience, so he’s still trying to figure out what career goals and careers he could focus towards with neuroscience.”

Eli says there’s nothing he can’t do now.

“I just joke about (his health history) now with my friends,” he said. 

“I always told him when he was a kid that chicks dig scars,” Dawnall said.

Both Eli and Dawnall now are very matter-of-fact when they retell his medical history.

“If I reacted badly, it was going to scare him,” she said. “I don’t allow myself to have those reactions. I had to be positive about it and the future, or else he definitely wouldn’t. If I’m negative towards his future, he’s going to be negative. For him to have a good quality of life, I keep myself positive about him so he can be positive about it. 

“Did I cry? Has he seen me cry? Of course. Now my cries are generally cries of joy that he’s here. He wasn’t supposed to survive this long.”

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