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Bull riding and beating the odds

“I want to try to meet Vader.”

As in Darth Vader. But how are Darth Vader, a bull riding invitational and auctions all connected? Through Hatcher Wheatley. Hatcher was born with hypo-plastic left heart syndrome (HPLS). He also has a rare lung condition known as plastic bronchitis and has had four open-heart surgeries.

A friend of the Wheatley family, Shane Haggard, called the Wheatleys just before Christmas in 2011 and asked if he could put together a bull-ridinginvitational to raise money for Hatcher.

“We didn’t know if he would live after that first event,” said Randy Wheatley, Hatcher’s father. “We wanted to memorialize him and the impact he’s made on people so we named the event after him.”

Not only did the 5,000 people who attended the event help the Wheatleys allay the medical costs, they decided to continue the event and pay it forward to other families in need.

“His health did a complete 180,” Randy said. “Hatcher’s on some herbs that have helped him tremendously, and helped him go from being on a hospice plan with do-not-resuscitate, to where he’s able to do every little thing a little boy wants to.”

Satrurday was the third annual Hatcher Wheatley Benefit Invitational, Inc., a state-recognized nonprofit group pending 501-C3 status with the IRS. It is helping two families in need.

“I have melanoma cancer,” said 8-year-old Kaedon Smith of Blackfoot. “The doctors and nurses are doing really well to treat me.”

They were able to help the Smith family by partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Kaedon will be going to Disney World this June with his family during Star Wars Week (hence, the Vader.)

“I picked Disney World because one of the people gave me advice that since I’m doing Make-A-Wish I have to do something big,” Kaedon said.

As for the live and silent auctions, the money raised there will go to benefit Melissa Young, a mother of three in Pocatello who was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in 2012, just eight months after her husband died in a car accident. She said she was in shock when the Wheatleys and friends showed up at her house to tell her they wanted the invitational to benefit her.

Young said when she found out they wanted to benefit her, she volunteered to help in the event in any way she could. She said she’s not one to go around telling everyone about her cancer struggles.

“Some of my co-workers don’t know,” Young said. “I just don’t want it to be a pity party on me. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and for them to be helping me out.”

Young frequents the Portneuf Cancer Center several days a week, and if things don’t go well with the chemotherapy she’s doing, she’ll have to have a bone marrow transplant.

But both the Smith and Young families, like the Wheatleys, are fighters. With all the people coming and donating to their good health, they’re not getting caught up in the bull of this wild ride of life.

For more information on the event, go

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