WEST ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV) – Quincy resident Hunter Hildebrand was all smiles while waiting in line to take a photo with St. Louis Blues Defenseman Colton Parayko at Meadowbrook Country Club on Monday night.
It was the inaugural golf tournament for Project 55, Parayko’s foundation. But this wasn’t the first time Hildebrand and Parayko were squaring up for a picture.
“I’m surprised to see Hunter here, and be happy to be a kid,” Parayko said. “He said he got his chest piece off the other day, so it sounds like things are going in the right direction.”
A course correction from a year ago. That’s when Hildebrand, 16, was diagnosed with Pectus Carinatum. For Hunter, it was a life-threatening condition where his chest caved in, reducing lung capacity, making it hard to breathe.
“It was scary. you never knew what was going to happen,” Hildenbrand said.
His first of two surgeries was in December 2021. But even in the scariest of moments, Hunter was proud to rep his love for the Blues; a relentless passion that led to a surprise.
“I get out of surgery and there is an envelope waiting, and it says I’m chosen for the Colton Parayko experience,” Hildebrand shared.
A once in a lifetime experience, thanks to the Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis, Project 55, and the St. Louis Blues.
In March, Hunter got to watch his first Blues game in person, on the glass, ride the Zamboni, and snap a selfie with Parayko. Then the Blues star revealed one last surprise, an autographed hockey stick.
“The kind of person he is, how down to earth he is, how relatable he is. He’s an awesome person,” Hildebrand said.
“Such a small gesture can go a small way,” Parayko added. “For me, that’s where this whole thing started. visiting the hospitals, visiting families, and getting their mind off a really difficult time.”
That generosity inspired Hunter to give back to a place that housed him time and time again, The Ronald McDonald House on Park Avenue.
After the historic flooding in July, Hunter collected food and other items for future families of seriously ill children staying at a number of area hospitals.
“His original goal was 100 items and $500,” his mother, Karla Hildebrand explained. “It was a week in and he already had blown that so we were like, ‘oh, crap this is going to be huge.”
Hunter’s drive required a caravan of friends and family to drive the donations to St. Louis. The teen spent his Monday night in St. Louis to share the results at Colton’s tournament.
“Before coming here, I went with a caravan of friends and family and donated 2,939 items to the Ronald McDonald house,” Hildebrand said in front of a crowd of a few hundred golfers, supporters, and Blues’ fans.
In four weeks, Hunter collected enough donations to help more than 500 families staying at the three Ronald McDonald houses in the future. He also collected enough cash to write a check for more than $1,000 to give directly to Project 55.
“It feels good that we can help this many people and the amount of stuff people have done over the past couple of weeks, it’s been awesome,” Hildebrand said.
The other reason to celebrate Monday was it was Hunter’s birthday. Radio voice for the St. Louis Blues, Chris Kerber, let the crowd know, and led the room in singing, “Happy Birthday.”
Hunter said he wants to return to St Louis with more donated items but first, he needs to get through the next few weeks of marching band practices.
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