Q&A with Koen: Why He’d Rather Give Back
As a South Dakota farm boy, 7-year-old Koen knows all about calves, kitties and dogs, as well as the hard work that goes into agriculture.
Koen also knows all about nebulizers, shaker vest breathing treatments, epi pens, emergency Solu-Cortef injections monthly shots to help his lung condition. He’s faced health challenges, but the farm – that’s his happy place.
“Koen’s still a normal 7-year-old. He argues about brushing his teeth and keeping his stuff picked up, and he’ll pester his little brother daily,” said his mother, Shanda. “He just happens to have this giant, kind heart he shares with others.”
His doctor, Wilfredo G. Veloira Jr., MD, Avera Medical Group sleep medicine, pediatric pulmonology specialist, submitted Koen’s name to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the well-known group that honors young people who face serious health conditions.
Koen could have sought out a trip to an amusement park in Florida or requested a meeting with a sports star or celebrity.
But he didn’t do that.
He instead gave the wish back. He wanted to help other children, because he knows hospital and clinic visits can be scary. He also knows about how farming is a part of almost every Midwestern kid’s life, in one way or another. So his wish was selfless: to help share his love of the farm with other kids and give them colorful distractions in a scary place, Koen asked that the waiting area at Avera Medical Group Pediatric Specialists Sioux Falls be redone with a new farm-themed colorful designs, interactive displays and even a tractor kids could sit in and drive.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation thought that would be great, but soon the news got out to other groups, including the Avera Foundation and businesses in the area. Everyone was moved, and all wanted to contribute to Koen’s cool idea. Soon, the design of the waiting area in pediatrics grew, became more engaging and colorful and included a lot of farm safety lessons for any kid.
Koen on the day of his Make-A-Wish event.
Koen’s doctor, Wilfredo Veloira, MD, rides on a tractor while Koen watches. Veloira nominated him for Make A Wish.
Koen and his dad, Nathan, drive a tractor on his farm. Koen said tractors are among his favorite parts of agriculture.
Koen, his brother, Kaden, and his father, Nathan, pose for a photo in the family's tractor, which Koen loves to drive.
Koen, holding Snickers the cat, sits with his brother, Kaden.
Koen, his dog, Toby, and little brother, Kaden, pose for a photo on Koen's farm in South Dakota.
On World Wish Day 2021, the new area, filled with farm themes, videos and engaging activities, and farm safety lessons was opened, and Koen loved it.
We asked Koen a few questions, and here are his answers in his own words.
You’ve faced a lot of your challenges with bravery. Do you have any advice for other children who might face something scary or health problem?
Just stay calm. It’ll hurt more if you’re just like screaming the whole time, but if you hold still you it won’t hurt as much. Talk about what you’re scared of with your mom and dad if they’re with you.
When did you come up with this wish?
I was coming home from my monthly shot. I was tired and had a headache, and my arm hurt and I was thinking about my wish. It just came to my mind.
What are your favorite things to do on the farm?
Go for walks on the dirt trails and play with my dog, Toby. I like to help my dad, too. I also like to play with my cats – Snickers, Idaho and Junior – they are a lot of fun. Junior got cut by the fan in the pickup when my dad started it. That wasn’t good, but he’s OK now.
I like to help my dad when he’s pulling posts out of the ground or moving cattle. Building fences and driving tractors are fun things to do, too.
Why do you like it?
I just like to drive tractors – I don’t know. The crops go to the elevator and they have this big bins for the crops, and you sell them to get money. They go on a long train ride and then they go on a big ship and then they make bread.
The cows go to a guy who cuts them open and gets the meat out of them. Then they go to the store. Steak and hamburger are my favorite – there are a lot of meats that come from cows.
Why did you think it was important for kids to know more about farming?
Because there’s a lot of situations on the farm where you could get hurt. And I wanted kids to know all the safety rules in case they go to a farm and don’t know the rules. You could get hurt if you’re not careful.