Kaden Phillips walked into the Jenks Simmons building on Friday morning. He got the surprise of his life as a group of El Reno High School students waited in the bleachers, confetti poppers in hand.
As soon as Kaden, a 10-year-old from Mustang, walked past the inflatable bouncy houses, the students jumped up and welcomed him with loud shouts and a group of large letter signs spelling out “You’re Going to Disneyland.”
The students had all helped the EHS Student Council raise money for Kaden, who is suffering from a congenital heart disease. A total of $7,000 was raised, meaning that Kaden will be granted his wish — a trip to Disneyland.
Kaden’s visit to El Reno marked the end of SMASH Week, a yearly event that has EHS students putting on a fundraiser for various charities.
The Student Council had asked the community for donations in the weeks before SMASH Week and every ticket sold to high school students brought in more money to the cause.
On the day of Kaden’s visit, the students played a variety of games including mini-golf and basketball, and Kaden was happy to join them. Nearly every minute, one of the many dozens of students came up to Kaden and asked for a picture. Many of them got to talk to him about his favorite movies and activities, and they seemed eager to get to know him.
The day even included the opportunity to hold snakes, a monkey, a giant rabbit and a baby kangaroo through a visit by Tiger Safari. A snack station was also set up specifically for Kaden, offering some of his favorite treats such as Cheeze-Its, root beer and Pop Tarts.
Kaden was joined in the fun by his mother, Anna.
“He was overwhelmed when he first got here,” she said. “But he’s very excited.”
Kaden was born with aortic stenosis, which caused his aorta to thicken and close over time. He had open heart surgery two years ago to address the problem, and he has to see a cardiologist every six months.
Kaden’s mother said despite his health problems, he’s doing all he can to take joy from life.
“He’ll be on medication for the rest of his life, and he’ll have more surgeries. But overall, he’s healthy and he’s happy.”
Kaden enjoys playing Fortnite on his Playstation, as well as baseball and basketball. He is on the Canadian County Outlaws baseball team, but basketball is the sport he prefers. One of his favorite movies is Avengers: Endgame, and he loves the heroes so much that it’s difficult for him to pick a favorite.
Kaden is also interested in robotics, and he hopes to be enrolled in a robotics course in the next school year.
Also joining Kaden was the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the group that connected him with EHS. With the help of the high school’s fundraiser, the international organization will grant Kaden his wish to visit Disneyland on June 6. Kaden will be traveling there with his mother, his sister and his older brother, a cancer survivor.