Mason Vander Ploeg, 11, likes to remind himself that he will “still have a full life” despite some losses at his young age.
February is Heart Month, and Mason, who lives in Surrey, was diagnosed with congenital heart disease in the summer of 2018 after coming home from a sailing camp.
He said he came home with a stomach ache and a headache, but as the week went on, it got worse.
By the time he got to the hospital, his blood pressure was 186/112.
Once he got to BC Children’s Hospital, he was diagnosed with congenital heart disease, “specifically coarctation of the aorta, which is a critical narrowing of the major blood vessel of the body,” according to a post from BC Children’s Hospital.
He ended up having surgery on Oct. 11, 2018, Mason said.
His mom, Shanna, said it was all “very shocking.”
“We went from completely normal healthy family, to being diagnosed. I remember sending my husband the text, ‘Mason needs heart surgery.’ It was within days our life completely changed.”
Before being diagnosed, Mason would hike, play ball hockey, sail and bike. Since then, he’s had to cut back or modify his activities.
“From the time of August… even through surgery and after, almost until Christmas, it felt like every time we turned around, something else was being taken from his future,” Shanna told the Now-Leader. “He can’t play ball hockey on the school team, but he can play it in the backyard and we’re grateful he’s healthy enough to do that. He can still hike, he can still cycle. When he goes to the bike park, he wears a chest protector. It’s not perfect and it’s that fine line between how much do you keep him in a bubble and how much do you let him live.”
Shanna said BC Children’s Hospital has helped to teach them to keep Mason’s life “as normal as possible, but maybe adapting how they do things.”
Dr. Shubhayan Sanatani, the medical director of BC Children’s Heart Centre, said congenital heart disease affects one-in-100 children, so it’s “pretty common.” He said in B.C., that means about 500 new cases each year.
“Mason is not a typical example because he was a very active kid that then presented with heart disease. The type of heart disease that he has is often detected earlier in life,” said Sanatani, adding that the “journey for almost everyone with it is quite successful.”
Sanatani said that while congenital heart disease is as common as one per cent, it’s also “as uncommon as one per cent.”
“So most people that have a niggling ache or pain or some difficulty breathing when they run, most of them don’t have a heart problem.”
But despite all that he went through, Mason continues to stay as active as he can, while also continuing to advocate for things that are important to him.
That includes the oceans and plastic pollution.
Mason, along with his friend Aniela Guzikowski, will be speaking at the TEDxBearCreekPark event on Feb. 29.
With the theme of this year’s event being “a shift in thinking,” Mason said he and Aniela “want people to shift their thinking and habits” when it comes to the oceans and plastic pollution.
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I had amazing time at our dress rehearsal for @tedxbearcreekpark. Our family has our tickets do you? 10 more days until the big event! @thelittleststreamkeeper @buttfreebc @tomdutta @plasticoceanscanada #masonsocean #tedx #ted #youthvoice #leader #lead #plasticcrisis #tedtalks #tedtalk #tedxspeaker #tedxyouth #tedxstage #dressrehersal #speaker #youthspeaker #savetheoceans #savethesharks #saveourplanet #saveourplanet🌍 #bethechange #bethechangeyouwanttosee #bethechangeyouwanttoseeintheworld #bethechange🌎 #bethechangeyouwishtosee #kidspeaker #kidscan #kidleader #sharkeducation #surrey #surreybc
TedxBearCreekPark says Mason is a junior ambassador for Plastic Oceans Canada.
Mason said his love for the ocean started when he went to the Vancouver Aquarium and saw all the animals, adding that it “thrilled” him.
“When I found out people were destroying our oceans, I decided to take action.”
Since then, he said, he’s cut out most single-use plastic items, held beach cleanups and done a recycling commercial with London Drugs.
To keep up with Mason’s work, follow him on Instagram at masons_ocean.
TEDxBearCreekPark is at the Bell Performing Arts Centre (6250 144 St.) from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.
It includes 14 speakers, “with a range of compelling ideas.” There will also be four entertainers with live music and free food.
Tickets are $89 each, or $69 for students. To purchase tickets, visit tedxbearcreekpark.ca.