DeKALB – It’s been a long time coming (seven months to be exact), but DeKalb teen Christopher Canaday returned home Wednesday night after a grueling recovery from a September heart transplant, and he was given a surprise hero’s welcome.
A crowd upward of 40 people – family, friends and community members – braved the cold in front of the Canaday residence to welcome Christopher home.
Family friends Ali Henry, Lisa Rove-Williams, Molly Green and more organized the surprise reception, complete with DeKalb police and fire escorts, handmade “Welcome home” signs, and a limo service – generously donated by local driver Bill Lamb – which escorted Christopher, his siblings and friends who have been at his side since kindergarten, from Loyola Medical Center in Maywood to DeKalb.
“I’m just excited to be home,” Christopher said, clearly overwhelmed but cheerful, after his mother, Amy Canaday, helped him from the limo into the house. The crowd lined up to greet the celebrity of the hour as he sat wrapped in a blanket on the living room couch.
“This is incredible. This support system means everything to us,” Amy Canaday said, emotion apparent in her voice. “There’s no way we could do [this] without the love and support of our amazing community. They are our family.”
Christopher, a DeKalb High School senior who turned 18 in the hospital, was born with pulmonary atresia, a rare defect that prevents the pulmonary valve from working properly and regulating blood flow.
His father, Mark Canaday, died in June 2017 after a three-plus-year battle with esophageal cancer.
Those gathered Wednesday said they wanted to show not only Christopher, but also Amy Canaday, that the community is behind them.
“It was a no-brainer. Anything we can do to bring a little bit of joy to [the Canadays], we will,” Rove-Williams said.
Although the transplant was a success, Christopher’s seven-month stint at Loyola was fraught with unexpected problems, including back fractures that have rendered him, for the moment, reliant on a walker to move.
Amy Canaday said true to Christopher’s spirit, he takes his mobility challenges in stride.
“Leave it to Christopher to make the most of it, because now he has sympathy for what he calls ‘old people problems,’” Amy Canaday said with a laugh. “He’ll go, ‘I’m 18 and can’t pick up my walker.’”
It seems as if Christopher has many guardian angels looking out for him, including an unlikely mentor in Sycamore Circuit Court Judge Bradley Waller.
Waller went through his own heart transplant shortly before Christopher’s, and he was touched by the teen’s story after reading about it in an August Daily Chronicle story.
“The thing that impresses me the most about [Christopher] is that he’s 18 years old, and I know he has bad days, but the majority of the time he’s got a smile on his face,” Waller said, standing outside the Canaday house waiting for the escort.
Waller lives close enough to the Canaday home, coincidentally, that he often goes for runs by the house.
“I told Christopher [that] in two months, I’m going to stop by and get him for our run,” Waller said later, smiling at Christopher, who nodded enthusiastically, surrounded by loved ones and, finally, home.