Almost a year after he underwent surgery, a young McDowell County boy now has a stronger heart. And his family is grateful for the generosity and support from the kind-hearted folks in the local community who helped them financially and spiritually through this ordeal.

Connor Waycaster is the 2-year-old son of Dustin and Amanda Waycaster, who live in the Dysartsville/Glenwood area of McDowell. Dustin works as a full-time firefighter with the town of Lake Lure and is also a volunteer firefighter with Glenwood Fire Department. His wife Amanda is a hairstylist at Rumours Salon on U.S. 70 East. Their oldest son, Avery, is 5 and is in pre-kindergarten at Glenwood Elementary.

On March 19, 2014, Dustin and Amanda welcomed another son and Avery got himself a little brother when Connor was born. But soon after, the infant was diagnosed at Mission Hospital in Asheville with having a ventricular septal defect, which was present at birth.

Two weeks later, the Waycasters took their infant son to Asheville Cardiology Associates where he was seen by Dr. Brad Friedman. He told the couple that Connor had a moderate-sized ventricular septal defect. The physicians with Asheville Cardiology later did another test and found out the infant’s aorta was leaking. The cardiologists still preferred to wait and see what would happen.

“One of the reasons they wanted to wait and monitor him was because they wanted to let his heart develop before making any corrections,” said his father Dustin.

By December 2015, the cardiologists decided a surgery on his heart was needed if Connor were to survive. His case was sent to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, which performs heart surgeries on infants and children. The operation was scheduled for March 23 of last year. Connor had just turned 2.

For Dustin and Amanda, they went from the joy and elation of having another son to the concern and worry about his health as he was just starting life.

“It’s just an emotional rollercoaster,” said Dustin. “You’re excited about being a dad and then you go to he’s going to have to have heart surgery.”

“He can’t live without a heart,” said Amanda.

All these doctor visits, tests and now having to travel to Charleston were taking a considerable financial toll on the young family as well. Amanda’s best friend Ashley Greene decided to do something that would help out the Waycasters.

Around one year ago, she headed up a benefit event at Providence United Methodist Church which featured a spaghetti dinner. The Glenwood Volunteer Fire Department and their ladies auxiliary helped out with the dinner.

During this benefit, a raffle was held of numerous prizes from local businesses.

“Everything was donated for the benefit,” said Amanda.

These businesses included Mr. Bob’s Do-Nuts, the Boxcar Grille, Bruce’s Fabulous Foods, Sears, Spencer’s Hardware, Rumours Salon, It Can Be Arranged, Chance of Sprinkles Bakeshop, L.A. Beauty Bar and numerous others.

Local firefighters also came together and held a raffle of a leather fire helmet, which was donated by Rhinehart Fire Services in Asheville. This raffle was held during the McDowell Fire & Rescue College.

But even more touching was the outpouring of support from friends, clients and total strangers. “We had people sending us checks in the mail, random strangers,” said Amanda. “These are some of the best people you will ever come in contact with. There were a lot of churches who donated. Strangers would donate. Clients would give me money.”

Connor had his surgery on March 23 at the Medical University of South Carolina, just a few days after his second birthday. So far, it appears to have healed his heart defect. He went back for another visit with the cardiologists in September to make sure he was healing properly and he was cleared for another yearly visit.

Connor Waycaster will turn 3 on March 19 of this year and he’s looking forward to playing soccer in the spring.

“There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t tell people about Connor and how he’s doing,” said his mother. “We value the progress more than anything.”

Dustin and Amanda Waycaster said they also greatly value the support and help they received from friends and strangers. The Waycasters want all those who helped them to know that they are thankful for their assistance and Connor is doing fine.

“We had a good support system,” said Amanda. “As a mother, it doesn’t seem like a year since this happened.”

“We’re amazed at how God has provided for us,” said Dustin.