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16-month-old boy with lung disease enjoys 1st day in park

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Updated: September 12, 2013 6:36AM



Max Allender did not splash in the fountain with the other children. He did not dig in the sand pit, and he tolerated a kiddie swing for about two minutes.

But for the first time in a life spent almost entirely within the stark sterility of hospital walls, 16-month-old Max did what most toddlers consider a basic right — he took a trip to the park.

“Today is the first day he’s going out for fun — ever,” said Max’s single mom, Jessica Allender, as she pushed Max and his twin sister, Coral, in a double stroller from 61st and University in Woodlawn to Bixler Playlot some six blocks away.

“Fun” is a relative term when you have a silicon tube poked down your throat to help you breathe and your stroller is equipped with a ventilator, an oxygen tank and a machine with an intermittent bleep — the kind that brings to mind a delivery truck backing up.

Max and his sister were born 26 weeks premature in Evanston. While Coral has thrived, relatively speaking, Max has been dealing with chronic lung disease.

“What his body is trying to do is build healthy lung tissue and grow, so that way he can be strong enough to breath on his own without a ventilator,” said Lindsey Hird-McCorry, one of Max’s nurses at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital, where he spent eight months.

Hird-McCorry said there’s no way to predict the future, adding that it could be a couple of years before Max finally can be rid of the tubes and bulky equipment that go everywhere he goes.

“Yesterday, we had four people come to the house before noon — just for Max,” said his grandmother, Suzanne Allender.

Max squinted and fussed in the bright sunlight Friday, as the Allenders wound their way through Hyde Park on their way to the playlot.

“But he’s not crying and he’s looking at stuff,” his mother said.

Other mothers with their toddlers stared as the Allenders strolled through the park gate — probably because they’d come with a media pack in tow.

A small story in the Hyde Park Herald told of Max’s planned trip to the park. Elaine Wackerly, 35, read that story. She came to the park Friday with her two children and a gift for the Allenders: a bottle of wine for mom, some books for the twins — and the name of a good therapist.

“I’m so proud of you — you made it,” said Wackerly, whose youngest son was also born premature.

After Max’s difficult swing experience, Jessica Allender found a shady spot — a little removed from the other children’s shrieks and giggles. She lay Max on a blanket and gently stroked his forehead. He seemed to like it.

“It’s the start of a good tradition,” Allender said.

Email: sesposito@suntimes.com

Twitter: @slesposito



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