GREAT FALLS – Just more than a year ago Great Falls High assistant football coach Wes Ross and his wife, Callie, didn’t know whether their son Troy, then 3 years old, would survive the week.
After suffering severe flu-like symptoms that progressively got worse, Troy was airlifted to Seattle Children’s Hospital where the family received a grim diagnosis. Troy had pulmonary capillaritis, a rare condition with only eight known cases nationwide.
“It causes his capillaries to bleed into his lungs,” Callie told MTN Sports. “So 75 percent of his blood was in his lungs when we got flown to Seattle. It’s so rare, they just don’t really know how to treat it. So we’re somewhat their guinea pig. We’re thankful that we have Seattle, because they’re amazing and they’re amazing doctors and they saved him once, so we trust what they’re doing.”
Though Troy looks healthy on the outside, he is still very sick on the inside and will likely be in danger of a flare up of the autoimmune disease his entire life.
“Every other week he goes to Benefis, or Seattle or Missoula, and he gets steroids to keep down inflammation,” Callie explained. “So he’s been on steroids for a year, who knows what he’s like without steroids. He’s always crazy. He gets IVIG every four weeks and that’s immunoglobulins, because basically he has no antibodies of his own.
“Basically we’re always on high alert. We had treatment on the first day of school, on a Wednesday and then 12 hours later we were in the emergency room because everything spiked up. He had strep, so it just changes that fast.”
But on Friday night at Memorial Stadium, Troy’s health was pushed momentarily to the background in a special moment for the Ross family.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation, Troy got to don pads like a Great Falls High football player and lead the team onto the field, hand-in-hand with the team captains. The entire team wore bright orange #TroyStrong wrist bands.
But that was only the beginning of Troy’s incredible night.
During pregame ceremonies, Troy joined his parents, his sister Kennedy and Bison football players at midfield for a special presentation.
Make-A-Wish was sending the Ross family on a seven-day trip to Disney World in January. Troy was overwhelmed being the center of attention, but his eyes and ears perked up when the public-address announcer said he would have unlimited access to ice cream.
“He’s talked about Disney World a lot,” his mom said. “We wanted to go last year, but he couldn’t be around germs, and the doctors even had to OK this trip that he can be in a place that kind of has a lot of germs.
“But when the Make-A-Wish girls, Jami and Katelyn, came over, they interview the child for about an hour and it’s whatever the kid says, they get. And if he’d have said I want a bike, he would have gotten a bike. But he said he wanted to go where Mickey Mouse lived.”
The Ross family is still trying to adapt to the new normal of their world. But they’re looking forward to the trip and know it will be special for Troy.
“When we got the letter from Make-A-Wish, it’s exciting, but you cry, too, because you never want your kids to be the kid that has to have a Make-A-Wish,” Callie said. “But just to give us a little bit of a break and fun, and it’s kind of a relief and it’s to give him a little hope to keep on fighting and us, too.”
Support for Troy and the Ross family has come from the far corners of the state, but it all started with the coaches, teammates and supporters of the Great Falls High Bison.
“We know we would have gotten support, but there’s nothing like a sports family,” Callie said. “And that’s what it is. And we had been a part of this sports family for two weeks when Troy got sick, and it was like we’ve been with them for years and years and years.”
And the Bison delivered Troy a win, 32-17 over Missoula Big Sky, on Friday.