Communities rally behind American Fork teen

Communities rally behind American Fork teen

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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By Alison Snyder Deseret Morning News

HIGHLAND — As he limped out onto the basketball court, all eyes were on the boy with the No. 41 on his jersey and a backward baseball cap on his head.

Travis Ashton is joined by his mother, Missy, center, and principals Carolyn Merrill and Chip Koop at Tuesday's game.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News It was just before the start of Tuesday's high school boys' basketball game between rivals American Fork and Lone Peak. And even though Travis Ashton might have felt self-conscious, he kept his cool.

They might not agree on referee calls or the final score, but they could all unite for one cause, Lone Peak principal Chip Koop told the crowd.

"I think we can all agree on helping this young man," he said.

Seventeen-year-old Travis, a manager for the American Fork basketball, baseball and football teams, wants to go to China for stem cell treatment.

The American Fork community has been enthusiastic in its support of the Ashtons' 2-week-old effort to raise the money to take Travis to China, and Lone Peak High School is chipping in, inviting the Ashtons to raise money during the big game. Travis' mother, Missy Ashton, said the high school is "a class act."

Six years ago, Travis sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car accident that left him in a coma for a month. When he came to, he was "pretty much in a vegetative state," Missy Ashton said, although he still had 100 percent of his mental capacity.

Travis had to relearn to sit up, walk and eat, the alphabet and numbers — all things that have taken him years to accomplish. Travis still can't speak or move his right arm. He communicates through his own blend of sign language, using his left hand.

A few weeks ago, Travis heard about Tori Schmanski and her trip to China to receive stem cell treatment. Schmanski is an Orem teenager who suffered severe brain damage, also in a car accident, in 2005.

"As soon as he heard about Tori, he was ready to go the next day," his mother said.

As the word has spread, many have shown their support, she said.

"We've just been really moved with how good people are and how willing they are to help out," Ashton said as both Lone Peak and American Fork fans handed her donations.

Image Travis Ashton, center, jokes around with American Fork basketball players during pre-game warm-ups. Travis is the team manager.

Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News The positive response doesn't surprise his classmates, who describe Travis as a happy, genuine and caring person.

"He's the first one there when you get to the side (of the field)," said Justin Jensen, an American Fork football player.

The family has high hopes for the potential improvements the stem cells, taken from an umbilical cord, will have on Travis. He said he hopes to speak again and serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His parents hope for even the smallest improvement.

It has taken years, but through his determination and faith, Travis has come a long way. He wears a white bracelet on his right arm that says, "I will follow him in faith." He said the phrase has been important and has sustained him through it all.

"Since I haven't been able to talk, I've had to rely on faith," he said.

Ashton said she's seen a lot of faith in her son — it's something that has helped him overcome many obstacles.

"It's taken a lot of hard work, determination, hours and hours of therapy, tons of money and even more prayers and then even more faith to get Travis where he is today," she said.

Ashton said the family has raised $3,000 of the $50,000 needed for the treatment, unavailable in the United States, which will be done at the Beike Biotechnology Clinic in Hangzhou, China.

"We feel we're not doing this alone, that things have just been falling into place," she said. " We've definitely been helped from above."

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