BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Ava Covington, the Bloomfield High School girl who collapsed at Foley Field in March from an apparent heart attack, played holiday melodies on the cello Monday, Nov. 7, to open Macy’s 2016 National “Believe” campaign in New Jersey.
The cello was a gift from the “Make-A-Wish New Jersey” which is sponsored, in part, by the “Believe” campaign. “Make-A-Wish” grants children with serious medical conditions their one “big” wish and Ava wanted a cello. The recital took place at Macy’s in the Short Hills Mall.
An 11th-grader, Ava, 16, had collapsed during track practice but a number of quick-thinking coaches revived her. She underwent open-heart surgery and, in a second operation this September, had an internal cardiac defibrillator installed, according to her father, Ken Covington.
The Macy’s event was well-coordinated and surprisingly active for the restricted space where it was held. Among the displays of holiday chocolates, ornaments and children’s clothing were numerous store personnel, photographers, a cameraman from ABC-TV News, a face-painter, a disc jockey, a balloon artist, plus microphones, speakers, a cookie table, and Thomas Weatherall, the CEO of Make-A-Wish NJ. The event was held near the escalators on the third level of the store. It was well-placed since pronouncements over the small PA system could be heard by first- and second-level shoppers.
“There are children today receiving results from X-rays and medical tests,” Weatherall said, “and there are parents going home today knowing that their child is faced with a life-threatening medical condition.”
According to Weatherall, in NJ, between 650 and 700 children received such a diagnosis every year
“The great news is we have Macy’s “Believe” campaign, he continued. “The funds raised by Macy’s gives us the confidence that whatever wish a child has, it will be granted.”
Covington said surgery on his daughter determined that scar tissue had developed near her heart and this was as the reason for her collapse at Foley Field.
He had previously said that, as a 10-year-old attending Demarest Elementary, Ava had collapsed while playing basketball in the school gym. This incident led to the discovery that one of her coronary arteries was pinched, preventing adequate oxygen from reaching the brain when she exerted herself. She had open-heart surgery to correct the condition but it was scar tissue that developed from this surgery, Covington said, that would cause the Foley Field incident six years later.
Ava’s mother, Tamisa, said one of her daughter’s surgeons nominated her for “Make-A-Wish.”
The girl was interviewed and contacted by wish counselors. Her daughter found out she would have her wish granted in May or June.
Ava said her selection by “Make-A-Wish” was a huge surprise. She has been playing the cello for five years and is a member of the BHS orchestra.
“I didn’t think I would be selected,” she said. “I asked for a carbon-fiber cello with a matching bow and hard case.”
The instrument costs around $8,000, she said.
But that might not be such a stretch for wishes and certainly not for “Make-A-Wish.”
“Since 1983, “Make-A-Wish” has granted more than 9,000 wishes in New Jersey,” Weatherall said.
Among the fulfillments he mentioned were an audience with Pope Francis; meeting the Dalai Lama; visiting the Netherlands to see firsthand where Anne Frank hid from the Nazis; and a trip to the Galapagos. No so far-flung have been hot spas, and gifts of specialized computers for children with impairments caused by their illnesses.
Recalling the Foley Field incident, Ava, a member of the track team at the time, said she was running and there was no warning, no sensation.
“The next thing, I’m in the hospital,” she said. “People had to fill me in.”
In the past, she would sometimes experience chest pains and blurry vision, she said, but would not pass out. But this time — nothing.
“That’s the scariest part,” she said. “I didn’t see it coming.”
For the rest of her time in high school she cannot participate in contact sports.
“At least until the end or the beginning of college can I begin talking about it,” she said. “The entire event has been devastating for me. I like working out.”