Blaze Dunn keeps track of high-fives while his parents count their blessings.
They know that Blaze, who has undergone surgery seven times in his nine years, is a lucky little guy despite the adversity he has faced.
Barely a year ago, he was seriously injured in a bicycle accident that led to two surgeries. As well, he was operated on in May of this year to address a tethered spine.
Before the accident, Blaze had endured four surgeries, the first of which took place when he was just three months old.
It hasn’t been the easiest life for Blaze and his family. But you would never, ever know that by looking at or listening to him.
“Want a high-five?” he asked a passer-by in REAL District’s Confederation Park before Friday’s Saskatchewan Roughriders home game against the Edmonton Elks.
“That’s two down!”
How, can he be so contagiously cheerful?
“It’s magic!” Blaze explained.
It could have been tragic.
On Aug. 16, 2022, Blaze was badly hurt outside the Dunn family’s Carlyle home when he rode his bicycle on to the street and into the side of a truck.
He shattered the humerus (upper arm) and femur (thigh) bones on the right side. The femur was broken in six places.
“It could have been much worse,” noted Perry Dunn, Blaze’s father.
“Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet,” added Blaze’s mom, Carole-Lyne.
The gratitude extends to everyone at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital (JPCH), to which Blaze was airlifted a few hours after the accident. He underwent surgery for five hours the following morning in Saskatoon.
The most-recent procedure took place on Sept. 7, only four days after the Dunn family had attended the Roughriders’ Labour Day Classic against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Prior to the opening kickoff, Blaze had been conspicuous at Mosaic Stadium while performing the coin toss in his ever-cheerful fashion.
In addition to being an ardent fan of the Green and White, Blaze is the ambassador for the Roughrider & Children’s Hospital Foundations Lottery.
The lottery, a co-operative effort of the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Saskatchewan Roughrider Foundation, offers 1,000 prizes — the grandest of all being $1 million. Tickets are available by visiting riderschildrenslottery.ca or calling 1-877-440-5437.
As well, Blaze has raised nearly $33,000 for the JPCH since July 1, thanks to initiatives such as a lemonade stand and a virtual bottle drive.
“There are no words,” his proud mom said. “The inspiration he instills in people keeps everybody smiling.”
Including the nice man who, prior to Friday’s game, expertly twisted some balloons to give Blaze some unique headgear.
At the highest point, three feet above his head, a message was written in felt marker: Give Me A High Five!
The request was also made, many times over, as green-clad fans passed by Blaze and his family during Coors Light Party in the Park.
Without even being asked, he was also happy to break into a full rendition of “Green is the Colour.”
All of this happened outside the Roughriders’ home stadium, fittingly enough, when you consider that his parents were engaged in such a setting.
Perry proposed near the gates of Taylor Field on Oct. 20, 2012, when the Roughriders faced the Montreal Alouettes. The couple was married on Dec. 30 of that year.
“Unfortunately, the wedding dress was not green,” Perry recalled.
“Most of the gifts were, though,” his wife was quick to point out.
The greatest gift — Blaze Allan Dunn — arrived on April 17, 2014.
“It was a name that I’d heard when I was young,” Perry said. “Blaze was a name I picked if I ever had a son.
“Coincidentally, his mom drives a Blazer.”
Blaze, who was born with bilateral club feet, wasn’t even a week old when he was first fitted with casts. He required three operations, which prevented him from walking until he was nearly two years old.
He was also born with strabismus, or cross eyes, so another surgical procedure was required at age three.
“Sometimes he has had lousy luck, but he always seems to get through it,” his father said.
Case in point: Shortly before last year’s bicycle accident, an MRI revealed that Blaze had been born with a tethered spine — a disorder of the nervous system in which tissue attaches itself to, and restricts movement of, the spinal cord.
To correct that issue, he underwent surgery at the JPCS at a time when the Roughriders happened to be in Saskatoon for their 2023 training camp.
While Blaze was hospitalized, he was visited by Frankie Hickson. The Roughriders’ running back encouraged Blaze to keep in touch, saying: “If you come to training camp or a game, have a sign so I know it’s you.”
Accordingly, Blaze brought a sign to training camp on May 15.
Following the practice at Griffiths Stadium, Hickson blazed a trail toward Blaze, and was followed to the fence by the entire Roughriders team.
“A nine-year-old who has had seven surgeries already?” Hickson marvelled in mid-May. “You can’t really look out here and complain about anything. You’re just thankful for everything.
“Honestly, it’s hard not to get emotional.”
And it’s impossible not to be in awe of Blaze, who has overcome and accomplished so much.
His story is told on a Facebook page — Blaze a Trail for Kids — that is a fundraising vehicle for the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.
“I decided that I want to give back to the Hospital that saved my life and has improved my quality of life significantly,” reads an excerpt from Blaze’s message on the Facebook page. “I want to help get other kids the care they need in our beautiful Province of Saskatchewan.”
Blaze is to return to the hospital for future care, but not until next year.
Just around the corner, by contrast, is a return to school and a chance to see all his classmates.
The youngster’s impact at Carlyle Elementary School is such that one teacher wrote a letter to the Dunn family and saluted Blaze as her hero.
“He makes friends everywhere he goes,” Carole-Lyne said while watching Blaze interact with everyone near the north entrance to Confederation Park.
“Sixteen high-fives!” Blaze exclaimed, just before more fans walked by and made a new friend.
“Now it’s 17!!! … 18!!! …”