In a nod to American Heart Month and a fellow local athlete, hockey players from the Keene, Monadnock and Fall Mountain Regional high schools will host a “Red at the Rink” fundraiser for Boston Children’s Hospital starting Wednesday. Donations will be made on behalf of Spencer Harrington, 16, a member of the Monadnock-Fall Mountain boys’ hockey team.
Spencer was born with a heart defect, called critical aortic stenosis, which required him to have five open-heart surgeries at Boston Children’s by the time he turned 5. Critical aortic stenosis occurs when the aortic valve narrows, reducing or totally blocking blood flow from the heart into the main artery and to the rest of the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.
At the time of his first three surgeries, Spencer said, he had a 50 percent chance of survival.
He went into heart failure when he was 10 and was placed on the transplant list. In the meantime, he was given a battery-powered mechanical pump and was able to attend public school for 5th and 6th grades.
On Feb. 4, 2015, after 13 months on the transplant list, 11-year-old Spencer received a new heart.
Today marks what he and his mom, Laurie Harrington, call his five-year ”Heartiversary.”
Now, the Walpole teenager has medicine he needs to take daily in addition to visiting a cardiologist every three months to monitor his heart.
“They mean the world to me because they’ve kept me alive for 16 years,” Spencer said of Boston Children’s. “Every time I walk out, I’m healthy.”
Spencer played hockey for one year when he was 6, but had to stop due to his condition. This is his second year playing high-school hockey.
“As a coach, I have never experienced a story like this from one of my players and it really helps put things into perspective,” said Monadnock-Fall Mountain Coach Steve Walsh in an email Monday evening.
Though initially worried Spencer might be limited in what he could do on the rink, Walsh said, he “has done absolutely everything asked of him with zero complaints. I am extremely proud of Spencer for what he has battled through and I am proud to be his coach.”
As part of the upcoming fundraiser, people are encouraged to wear red, which symbolizes cardiovascular awareness, at the Monadnock-Fall Mountain boys game Wednesday at 7 p.m., as well as on Saturday for both the Keene High’s boys and girls games. The boys team plays at 5:30 p.m., and the girls play at 7:30 p.m.
All of the games are at Keene ICE.
Donations will be accepted during all three games, along with two the following weekend, and those who give can fill out a heart with who they “play for.” The hearts will be displayed throughout Keene ICE until Saturday, Feb. 15, while donations are still being accepted.
The fundraiser, which isn’t a school-sponsored event, is being organized by Rebecca Russell, the president of the Keene High School boys ice hockey booster club and Jenna Tattersall, who is the president of the Keene High School/Fall Mountain girls ice hockey booster club.
Last year, the Keene High School boys team held a similar fundraiser to raise awareness for colon cancer. A senior on the team, Dimitri Seger, had lost his father to the disease.
“We try to do fundraisers for things that are close to home so that the kids can relate,” Russell explained.
In honor of February’s American Heart Month, the teams will also be raising awareness about the need for blood and organ donors.
Today, there are more than 112,500 people on a national waiting list to receive a heart or other life-saving organ, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Last year, 19,250 organs were donated from both living and deceased donors.
The donation tally will be finalized and announced after the second period of the Monadnock-Fall Mountain game Feb. 15, which starts at 3:15 p.m. at Keene ICE, and presented to Spencer and his family.
Donations, which will benefit the pediatrics department of the Boston hospital, will still be accepted through the end of the game as well as during the Keene boys game, which follows at 5:15 p.m.
Noting that athletes are taught to compete, Keene High boys hockey Coach Chris McIntosh said his team is inspired by kids like Spencer, who “are often competing for something much more important than a game.”
“To know Spencer is able to be a high school athlete and play such a highly competitive game like hockey, after going [through] what he has, shows you he is the ultimate competitor,” McIntosh said in an email.