Two men kayaking

Love Beyond the Odds
Story 143

By Jaquelyn Lugg

In the early 2000s, Mark Wildoner spent 18 months serving on the crew that built Sonora Regional Medical Center, now known as Adventist Health Sonora. Building the new hospital amounted to just a small part of his 30-year career in construction, but his connection to the place didn’t end when the project was complete.

At 50, Mark made the choice to go back to school and become a registered nurse at the hospital he helped build. Next year will be his 10th as a nurse at Adventist Health Sonora, most of which has been in the Emergency Department.

“I wanted to do something more to contribute to the community,” Mark says of his late career transition. “To be honest, though, Chad probably gave me more of the push to get into healthcare.”

Two men kayaking

At two years old, Mark’s son Chad was diagnosed with ataxia telangiectasia (A-T), a rare genetic condition that affects muscle coordination, the immune system, and many other parts of the body.

“A-T is degenerative, so just when you think you’ve figured it out, it changes,” Mark says. “Just yesterday, I spent the whole day re-assembling Chad’s wheelchair to get it to work properly.”

Chad holding book

To adapt to the many changes that come with being a parent of a child with A-T, Mark and his wife, Louise, have leaned on their community for support and connected with other families of children with an A-T diagnosis.

“We have a great group that surrounds us, and it's important that we tap that,” Mark explains.

Mark’s Emergency Department co-workers have been hugely supportive of him and his family, he says, and recently had the chance to demonstrate their support of a book featuring Chad’s original illustrations by sharing it with their kids and grandkids.

Chad’s illustrations are published in Kayleen Holder’s book, “Hello from the Great Blue Sea: 12 Wonders of the Ocean,” which recently won a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and supports the A-T Children’s Project through its sales. Holder, whose niece also has A-T, held an art contest asking children and adults with A-T to send in drawings of sea life. Chad, who loves the beach, devoted days to drawing his favorite ocean creatures and won the contest.

Family in front of ferris wheel

Many children diagnosed with A-T live into early adulthood, or about 25 years old. Now 35, Chad long ago surpassed those odds. Mark says it’s their faith and hope for the future that sustain them through the journey.

“We’re like the three amigos, Chad, Louise, and me,” Mark says.Some days are harder than others, but some days are better than others, too.”