Liam Young runs and jumps and plays like most boys his age, but in other ways he’s very different.
Though there were just five candles on his most recent birthday cake, Liam already has survived a life-threatening illness and more than 40 surgeries, including the amputation of his fingers and feet, and now wears prosthetic legs.
But he’s also touched thousands of hearts and been the inspiration for a very special toy story.
“Thad Olsen, a welder at our Waterloo, Iowa, factory, had heard about my son on the news and wanted to do something for him,” said Chris Young, Liam’s father. “Thad sent a toy model of a John Deere tractor signed by the employees on the assembly line.”
The gesture was deeply moving to Young, as was his son’s reaction to the gift — pure joy — and that gave Young an idea.
Young made a personal goal to buy 20 toy skid steers, based on products made at Dubuque Works, where he is a skid steer assembler, and deliver them to patients at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, which had provided such great care to his son.
“I was trying to purchase one or two skid steers each paycheck,” said Young, “and when word got out about what I was buying them for, things just took off.”
Deere employees are known around the world for their generous support of the communities where they work, and their support for Young has been typical, which is to say exceptional.
With the help of his fellow Deere employees, Young quickly reached his goal of 20 toys.
That was just a start.
“Dubuque allocates funds for special projects and local non-profit organizations in the community, and we were thrilled to help with Chris’s idea,” said Arleen Wentworth, a senior administrative assistant who also is a member of the committee that chooses which activities to fund.
Young’s toy total was now 40 — double his goal — but that figure quickly doubled again.
A senior executive at Ertl, a die-cast metal farm and construction toy vehicle manufacturer in Dyersville, Iowa, saw a story about Liam. The company promptly donated another 40 toys.
Young didn’t want to wait until Christmas, so in May he and several other employees drove to the hospital and delivered 80 toy tractors and skid steers, all signed by Deere factory workers.
Now, he’s saving toward another batch of toys to donate at Christmas.
“I kept thinking that this is catching on and it’d be awesome to keep it going — maybe even expand it to other hospitals,” said Young. “So I asked my son if he thought we should continue.”
“Of course we should!”
Which makes this a very special toy story that is still being written.