Christina Payton takes a few seconds before talking about the support she and her family have received as they wait for a heart-transplant operation for her 6-year-old son, Owen.
"We're so blessed," she said Sunday. "We have so many family and friends pulling for us, supporting us. I'm not sure we could get through this otherwise."
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Owen was born with a congenital heart defect known as a "single complex ventricle heart." His doctors have recommended a full heart transplant.
On Sunday, dozens of supporters gathered at Bowling Green Sports Center in West Chicago for a fundraiser designed to help the Payton family cover the costs of a transplant and Owen's ongoing medical care. Supporters spent $20 a ticket to bowl three games, and some participated in a Valentine's Day raffle as well.
Jennifer Fink, Owen's aunt and godmother, helped organize the bowling event, with help from the Children's Organ Transplant Association. a not-for-profit fundraising group.
"We thought that bowling would be a nice event because kids and families can do it together," Fink said Sunday. "The turnout has been so great."
Owen, who lives with his family in an unincorporated area near West Chicago, attended Sunday's event and could be seen lighting up the bowling lanes. Also in attendance were Owen's younger sister, Juliet, and his 10-month-old brother, Tredway.
Owen's father, Chris Payton, said Owen's health is good at the moment, but that he could become seriously ill at any time.
"His immune system is so compromised right now, that if he gets sick it can lead to hospitalization," he said. "It's a bit of a roller coaster."
The Paytons learned about Owen's heart defect during Christina's first ultrasound. Owen has already been through multiple open-heart surgeries, the first of which occurred when he was just 6 days old.
Owen has been on the list for a transplant operation since last March. The cost of such a procedure can exceed $500,000. His family hopes to raise $60,000 to help cover their out-of-pocket expenses. Going into Sunday's bowling fundraiser, the family had raised more than half that amount.
"One of the neatest things about this whole experience is seeing so many people rally around Owen," Chris Payton said. "I never imagined how much support he'd get. We're so thankful."
For more about Owen and his condition, and to donate to the family, go to cotaforowenp.com