Life is truly like a rodeo—you never know what is going to get bucked up your way. Sometimes, it seems, we just need to hold on for dear life and wait for the buzzer to ring, while at other times, something amazing happens that makes the audience holler and clap from the stands. And for teenager Ace Elegante, he’s seen it all.
Ace was first diagnosed with Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, commonly referred to as VHL, when he was 9 years old.
“We found out when he started getting really bad headaches and passing out,” his mother, Brandy Elegante, explains. “So, I took him to the doctor, and his blood pressure was really, really high. The doctor pulled me into the hall and just said, ‘We need to get him to Primary Children’s right now. He’s either got a brain tumor or his kidneys are shutting down.’”
After three days at Primary Children’s Hospital, his blood pressure stabilized, but nobody could figure out what was wrong. The doctor initially thought that it was pheochromocytoma, which is the first type of tumor he had. However, his pediatrician kept saying that because he had severe anxiety, it very well could be VHL. After the surgeon removed the tumor, Ace was taken to Huntsman Cancer Institute for some genetic testing, and it was confirmed he had VHL four months later.
VHL is a genetic disease that prevents your body from fighting off tumors. Ace can get tumors anywhere in his body, including his brain, eyes, ears, spine, pancreas, and kidneys, but the area that’s most affected for Ace is his adrenal glands. Because of this, his body would produce too much adrenaline, causing him to have severe anxiety and panic attacks. However, now that much of Ace’s adrenal glands have been removed, he doesn’t make enough adrenaline. Luckily, a daily dose of cortisol helps.
Ace is in high school now, and he lives a fairly normal life for a teenager, other than taking a daily pill and going to the doctor’s office more often for scans. However, throughout his life, he will have to deal with tumors and surgeries, and there is really no way of knowing how long his life will be.
The Wish Dilemma
In 2020, Ace was connected with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and he wished for a trip to Hawaii. Unfortunately, because his original wish was a “travel wish,” it could not be fulfilled because of the pandemic. After thinking about different wish ideas, plans just weren’t lining up. Then, last April, the horse Ace was riding for his high school rodeo had to be put down due to an injury. That’s when the Elegantes started looking for a new horse that Make-A-Wish could possibly help pay for. Unfortunately, the organization was only able to pay $10,000 for a new horse, which was only about half of what was needed. The organization’s rule is that they have to pay for the entire gift, and rodeo horses tend to be more expensive than other horses because of the years invested in training them.
Ace was still able to go through the Make-A-Wish building, which he says, would have been more than enough of a wish for him.
“It was really neat,” says his father, Tony. “They brought our whole family into this room, and they let us all write down what we would wish for Ace. Then Ace wrote what he would wish for us. We took our wishes to the wish granters, and then they had this little coin that Ace could drop into the wish granters’ room. It said that he would have his wish granted, so that was super neat. They are really an amazing organization.”
The Perfect Fit
As the family struggled to figure out how to get Ace a new horse to ride for his upcoming high school rodeo season and team roping competitions, things unexpectedly fell into place. Ace’s grandpa had planned a trip to Arizona to look at horses for himself, and at the last minute, he felt that he needed to invite Ace to come with him. After a long drive, they were able to meet up with a man named Jason Hershberger, who was selling horses. After Ace’s grandpa rode a couple of horses, Ace jumped on a mare named Sid and immediately knew that there was something different about her.
“When I got on, I felt like I was talking with an old friend. Like, you know each other, you understand each other, and you know what you need to do,” Ace recalls. “I felt like I could trust her, and she would do her job, and I could do my job.”
Hershberger adds, “When Ace roped on Sid, right away I could see that she fit him really well. I have had a lot of experience fitting horses and ropers together. It was cool to see how well they got along.”
The Generosity of Strangers
After Ace’s grandpa told Hershberger about the Make-A-Wish situation and called Brandy to help explain VHL, Hershberger had a strong impression that he needed to help buy a horse for Ace.
“I put up a post on Facebook explaining Ace’s situation. Everyone was so generous—it only took 16 hours to raise the money!” he recalls.
Hershberger insisted that the Elegantes use the $20,000 to buy whatever horse they wanted, but Ace only wanted Sid. So, Hershberger sold them the horse and then had Ace come back for some one-on-one training to help him learn to better rope with her.
“Jason is amazing,” says Ace. “The fact that he was able to do this for me is super cool.”
“What’s really neat about all this is that after all of it happened, Ace was able to call Make-A-Wish and say, ‘You can give my wish to someone else because my wish has already been granted,’” says Tony. “It just makes me feel better at night because there’s a kid whose family got to spend one great trip with them or do something really cool with them,” adds Ace. “I felt like I would be super selfish to still take that wish.”
Tony says of the whole experience, “There are really no words to explain how I feel. I mean, it’s an answer to prayers. It makes me want to be better. It makes me want to do more for people and realize that if a lot of people just do a little bit, it can accomplish a mega amount.”
Ace has been riding horses his whole life, and after everything is said and done, he will be able to do high school competition team roping with his new horse, Sid.
Even though he will still deeply miss his old horse, Ace says, “It was a big blessing, and I can’t say it enough. I’m so grateful for it.”
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