Parade in Ardmore's Regional Park in honor of Conner McDougall's 16th birthday

Drew Butler
Conner McDougall

This Sunday a special parade will be held in Regional Park in honor of a special young man’s 16th birthday. When Conner McDougall was only 18-months old, he suffered a spinal cord injury in a car crash that took the lives of his father and brother. McDougall’s mother, Sonya Hunter, said Sunday’s parade celebrates both 16 years of life and 14 years of overcoming the odds to survive.

“In 2006 my husband Kris had a car accident that killed him and my six-year-old son Adam,” Hunter said. “It left Conner with a spinal cord injury at C1, 2 and 3 vertebrae where the head connects to your spine.”

McDougall spent almost three months at Dallas Children’s hospital before getting to come home. Hunter said his first days there were in the ICU, and the doctors were extremely negative about his prognosis.

“They were constantly pushing me to let him go and telling me that he was going to have no quality of life,” she said. “Of course I fought them because, he was all I had left. It wasn’t a survivable wreck, and I just didn’t believe that God saved Conner from the wreck just for me to let him go.”

After spending 31 days in intensive care, Conner was moved into the pulmonary care unit.

“When I left the ICU and was moving down to pulmonary they told me that he wouldn’t even survive a year,” Hunter said. “They said he’d end up with chronic pneumonia that would take his life within a year — but, knock on wood, the child has never had pneumonia to this day.”

Hunter said her son has made amazing improvements since leaving the hospital and has regained abilities doctors believed he would never have. For example he is now able to be off the ventilator for up to six or eight hours a day.

Twice a year, Conner goes to the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland where he undergoes two weeks of outpatient treatment. There he receives four hours of intensive physical and occupational therapy a day along with multiple tests to check on his condition.

When not traveling out of state for treatment, Conner receives three to four hours of physical therapy each day and does homeschooling every afternoon.

Hunter, who remarried in 2009, said she and her husband were initially planning a massive party with a dance in honor of Conner’s birthday — but then coronavirus hit. Because he spends most of the day on a ventilator and has a compromised immune system, Connor is at an extremely high risk of contracting and developing complications from COVID-19.

The family came up with the idea of holding a parade, so they could celebrate while social distancing. At first it was going to be a small event through their circle drive, but Connor’s stepfather suggested going bigger and inviting the entire community.

“He was like, it’s a miracle that he’s celebrating 16 years,” Hunter said. “This community has embraced him and loved him and prayed for him all these years, so we need to open this up to the community.”

She posted the plan to social media on Tuesday and has already received numerous responses from people planning to attend. The parade will be a surprise for Connor who does not know about his family’s plans.

The parade is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13 at Regional Park and everyone is invited to participate. Attendees are asked to start lining up around 2:45 p.m. near the east gate of the park. The parade route will enter the park through the east gate then circle around the softball parking lot. Someone will be stationed near the gate to help direct traffic.