DeKalb family waiting for heart transplant match

August 1, 2018

DeKALB – Christopher Canaday is proof the correlation between someone’s proverbial heart – the way they laugh, live and love for others – isn’t tethered to their physical heart.

The 17-year-old DeKalb High School senior just entered his fourth month at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, where he desperately awaits a match – a donor with not only the same blood type, but also of the same height and weight.

Yet he continues to light up the lives of those around him – his mother, Amy, and his brothers, Brendon, 21, and Chad, 19, and close family friend Ali Henry, as well as the hospital staff.

“He’s always smiling and super-mature for his age and always wanting to help those around him,” Amy Canaday said Tuesday. Christopher was having a rough day and couldn’t sit in on the interview.

His aura has always been infectious, mom says. A teacher in District 428 who’s on leave while she waits with her son, she remembers hearing that the principal at Brooks Elementary School called Christopher into the office to console a youngster who was about to have his tonsils removed.

“Of course, he was honored, and he told him, ‘there’s nothing to be scared of, and you get all the ice cream when you’re done,’ ” Amy Canaday said, busting out laughing and then crying. 

“He always had that magic way of putting a smile on anyone’s face. He cares with his entire heart. The nurses have just fallen in love with him.”

There’s no mistaking it: Life has been cruel to the Canadays. Mark Canaday, the father of the family and a former housing director at Northern Illinois University, died last June after a three-plus-year battle with esophageal cancer.

That was 21 years after Mark and Amy lost their baby girl to pulmonary artresia in 1996. They were told there was only a sliver of a chance they’d have another child with the condition, a rare defect that prevents the pulmonary valve from working properly and regulating blood flow.

Christopher, nonetheless, was born with it, but has beaten enormous odds and endured many open-heart surgeries and more than 50 procedures.

Amy Canaday said Christopher has admitted he was struggling mightily with chest pains while his father fought cancer.

“He’s been deteriorating long before I lost my husband to cancer,” she said.

About 2 1/2 years ago, Ali Henry moved into the family’s house, “so I could focus on either Mark or Christopher, whomever needed me most.”

She’d known the family from working at Clinton Rosette Middle School, where she first got to know Christopher and Chad, and where Amy Canaday worked for many years.

“They’ve kind of adopted me into the family,” she said. “Having Christopher on the days we did have him was amazing.”

They still have him, and the extended family’s spirit remains indomitable, despite the long odds, and their proverbial new address.

“This is our new home,” Amy said, “at the hospital.”

Thursday marks 93 days they’ve been waiting for that match. For mercy for Christopher. She said as his heart has continued to fail, even a short walk down the hall is like a grueling marathon.C

Christopher is on track to graduate and boasts a 3.2 grade-point average. He spent part of Tuesday, despite having such a rough day, doing geometry homework.

“He’s not giving up,” Amy Canaday said. “None of us ever will.”

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