By Scott Linesburgh
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Shawn Stockwell wore the jersey of his favorite team, dyed his hair the appropriate color and jumped up and down while trying to cheer his team on to victory.
It was a perfectly normal thing for a nine-year-old hockey fan to do. And his mother smiled brightly as she watched him, because those normal moments are so rare in his life.
Shawn Stockwell is a native of Eagle River, Alaska, but for the past 19 months he and most of his family have been living in the Ronald McDonald House near the Stanford Medical Center as he awaits a possible heart transplant. Born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome – the left side of his heart does not function – he has been through more than 50 surgeries and because of his condition, he can never travel further than two hours from the hospital in case a donor is found.
So when Trista Stockwell found out their hometown team, the Alaska Aces, were taking on the Thunder last Saturday at Stockton Arena, she knew she had to take her son.
“It meant the world to him,” said Trista Stockwell. “We always try to make his life good, because we’ve always known his life would likely be shorter than most people.”
Trista, Shawn and his sisters, Amanda, 15, and Haley, 5, didn’t get to see their team win, as the Thunder picked up a 3-2 victory in overtime, but that hardly mattered.
“My daughters and I practically cried when the Aces came on to the ice, because it was a little piece of home,” Trista said.
Shawn didn’t need many words to explain his feelings as he sat next to his mother with his hair sprayed Aces blue, proclaiming “This is just awesome. I love hockey.”
The Stockwells planned to quietly attend the game in Stockton, but once Thunder officials were aware they were in the arena and of Shawn’s situation, they went out of their way to make sure the family felt comfortable.
Thunder trainer Kevin Anderson had some choice seats in section 118, and moved the Stockwells from their spot in the upper deck. Shawn was brought in to meet the coaches, Chris Cichocki of Stockton and Keith McCambridge of Alaska, and both teams presented him with an autographed goalie stick.
“What a great kid,” Anderson said. “How can you not want to do the tiniest thing that might make a difference in that kid’s life?”
McCambridge also brought Shawn into the Alaska locker room, and the players signed his jersey.
“Meeting that brave boy really puts things into perspective,” McCambridge said.
Trista Stockwell said she appreciated the kindness, and Shawn was proud of his souvenirs. But she felt the most satisfying part of their visit might have been the chance to just act like visiting fans rooting for their team among a throng of passionate Thunder boosters.
Just a normal night at a hockey rink.
“We were treated just like any Alaska fans who would show up in Stockton for a game, and it was wonderful,” Trista Stockwell said. “When we cheered, they booed, and then we tried to cheer louder, and they would smile and boo louder. It was a great group of people, and Shawn had such a fun time.
“There haven’t been many of those.”
Trista Stockwell said she and her husband, George, knew Shawn had serious health problems two days after he was born. The prognosis was so dire on his fourth day, she and George were forced to start planning his funeral.
“It was horrible. We picked out a song, made arrangements, everything,” Trista said. “But Shawn has always been a fighter. He’ll surprise you.”
In April 2006, he was brought to Stanford Medical Center, and in December a heart was found for Shawn. But it was discovered there was damage to the donor heart while he was being prepared for surgery, and the transplant was called off.
Trista said Shawn is the longest resident at McDonald House. She tries to give her son as normal an existence as possible, which means following the Aces. His father was an all-state high school player. Shawn tried going to hockey classes when he was six but the strain was too much on his body.
“He still loves hockey, and he’s an Aces fan,” said George Stockwell, who is a foreman at a roofing company and remains in Alaska. “The only thing around here is the Aces.”
Trista saw the Aces were scheduled to play Fresno, but was told by the transplant team it was too far. She heard Stockton was close enough, and Alaska also visits the Stockton Arena for a two-game series on Nov. 21 and 23. The Thunder and the Aces have offered to make accommodations for them.
“We’ve already marked those dates on the calendar,” Trista Stockwell said. “Shawn is already getting ready to go back to Stockton. It gives him something to look forward to.”