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Make-A-Wish sends dinosaur fan on dig

November 19, 2009|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN -- Ask 8-year-old JC Lehman or his parents how long he's been interested in dinosaurs and they'll tell you it's been a while.

"I like dinosaurs since I knew what they were, since I could talk," JC said.

That interest has led to an extensive collection of reading material.

"Books and books and books," JC said.

JC's love of dinosaurs was the basis for the trip of a lifetime. He, his parents James and Donna Lehman, and his 5-year-old sister Paige went to Montana for a fossil dig in early July.

The trip, courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic Inc., was organized for JC because he has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, the most common form in boys, Donna Lehman said.

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Duchenne is one of nine types of muscular dystrophy, a group of genetic, degenerative diseases that primarily affect voluntary muscles, according to www.mda.org.

The Rockland Woods third-grader was diagnosed when he was 4 or 5 years old, when he was having trouble getting up steps and he couldn't jump.

Testing revealed high creatinine levels and JC was referred to Johns Hopkins University Hospital. By the time of his first appointment, Internet research had given the Lehmans a pretty good idea of what they were facing.

Because the disease has progressed more slowly than usual, JC's doctors think he might have a genetic blocker that delays the onset, Donna Lehman said.

When JC was asked where he would want to go on a dream trip, he said he wanted to hunt for dinosaur fossils.

"I like everything science," said JC, who wants to be a paleontologist some day.

Paleontologist Jerry Jacene, who lives in Tennessee and had planned to spend the summer working at his museum there, adjusted his schedule to accommodate JC's request.

Jacene had done two previous Make-A-Wish digs on Marge Baisch's 8,000-acre cattle ranch in Glendive, Mont. Donna Lehman describes Baisch as a "real cowgirl" who rides a four-wheeler with a gun on her hip in case she runs into mountain lions.

The trip began with a limousine ride to the airport.

The Lehmans were met at the airport in Billings, Mont., by Jacene, who drove them the three hours to the ranch, Donna Lehman said.

Their guides for the week included Baisch, her daughter-in-law, Jacene and his interns. The family stayed at The Yellowstone River Inn, which donated lodging and meals for the family.

Every morning, the Lehmans and the crew went to the site, where they learned how to dig for fossils. Boots were required in the field because of rattlesnakes.

JC was given several options of things to do in the afternoon, but he always chose to dig for fossils. One of his parents would stay back at the inn with Paige in the afternoon, while the other accompanied JC.

During the dig, JC found a 2-foot-long rib bone from an herbivore. In his case, Baisch made an exception to her rule that everything found on her ranch belonged to her.

JC learned how to make a field jacket of plaster to protect his bone so it could be transported. Jacene took it to Tennessee with him and JC will take possession of it when the Lehmans make a Christmas visit to Tennessee to see Donna Lehman's sister.

"It was surprising to me how many fossils there were. Herbivores, triceratops sites -- you just walk through the badlands and see exposed bones," Donna Lehman said.

Special activities were planned in the evenings, ranging from campfires to going to the movies, all at no expense to the Lehmans.

"They thought of every detail you would want or need," said Donna Lehman, including backpacks filled with things to keep the children busy during the plane ride.

It was a trip filled with memories, new experiences and new friends.

"The night before we left, the kids and I were crying in the hotel," Donna Lehman said.

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