OURAY COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Three years ago, Carson Zdankiewicz was on the verge of celebrating his sixth birthday when a routine yearly check-up at the doctor’s office changed his life forever.

His blood pressure was alarmingly high to doctors, and he was referred to St. Louis Children’s Hospital where he learned he had coarctation of the aorta. According to his father, Shane Zdankiewicz, it’s a congenital heart defect that causes a narrow restriction of the aorta, which is the main artery out of the heart.

Carson went into surgery in October of 2019 to repair the defect. The surgery was successful, and Carson has check-up appointments each year. His blood pressure has been great at each follow up appointment.

Doctors said Carson’s aorta has dilated a bit but is holding steady. Going forward, he will never be able to play football or do heavy weightlifting.

Trip to Colorado

Carson is from Southern Illinois and makes a trip to Colorado every other year.

“While we have woods and bluffs in Southern Illinois, it just doesn’t compare. We drive our jeeps out to mountain passes and hike in the Ouray area. We have been doing it since I was a kid,” Shane said.

In his free time, Carson enjoys games, riding 4-wheelers, and playing with his brother, Caden.

He also loves Colorado as much as his dad and talks about it all the time.

Two years ago, Carson was able to complete the Bridge of Heaven hike with his dad and a couple friends.

But last week, Shane surprised Carson with a trip back to Colorado.

“I didn’t tell Carson though, I told him we were going camping in Tennessee and wanted to see how long it would take him to figure it out. He started piecing it together in Kansas, while looking at Google maps,” Shane said.

Shane said when they arrived in Colorado, they spent three days “Jeeping.”

Climbing Mount Sneffels

On the fourth day, they decided to climb Mount Sneffels.

Shane had completed the 14er twice and Carson told him over the last year that he wanted to do it.

“I honestly didn’t think he would make it because I’ve always considered it a pretty tough climb. Especially only being at elevation for a few days. My plan was to let him give it a go and then we would go give the blue lakes hike a go, since there’s at least a trail. Sneffels, as you likely know, is just scrambling over boulders or slipping on the section where the boulders have already tumbled away,” Shane shared.

They started their hike from the upper trailhead and headed up the mountain. Shane said he thought they would make it about halfway to the saddle.

But Carson didn’t slow down.

“Carson set our pace and he would pick out a boulder ahead and go to hit, catch his breath for about 30 seconds and then pick the next stop. When we were about halfway to the saddle he hadn’t slowed down,” Shane said. 

Shane continued to encourage Carson by saying how awesome he was doing.

“I heard him under his breath saying, “come on Carson, you got this, you can do it,” his dad shared.

That’s when Shane knew his son was going to make it.

It took them two hours to make it to the summit of Mount Sneffels. When Carson got to the top, Shane said everyone was giving him high fives.

“It was really fun, and I was impressed I was able to do it,” Carson said.

His dad says a week later, Carson still talks about the hike nearly every day.

“I was super impressed, and even tried mentioning his surgery to him when we were nearing the top, but it just got me choked up, which never happens,” Shane said. “I think it was a great accomplishment for someone his age, though. I think plenty of kids are capable, they just have to really want to do it. Which may be a bit more rare in that age group. His heart condition just adds to all of that.”

They plan to come back to Colorado again next year and do Carson’s second 14er.