Cason King grew up as a typical Sarnia kid.
He biked the Howard Watson Trail, entered the Lambton County Science Fair and Bluewater Granfondo, delivered the newspaper and ran cross country in Canatara Park.
“He even jumped off the railing under the Bluewater Bridge when he wasn’t supposed to,” mom Sherry recalls with a tearful laugh. “He was a small town kid who grew into this amazing man.”
By age 32, the graduate of St. Christopher Secondary and Western University was earning a reputation as a world-renowned scientist — a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin, where he was furthering his research in medical microbiology and immunology.
More specifically, Cason’s breakthrough research on influenza revealed how the virus interacts with the cells it infects — essentially changing the way the science field looks at cellular response to influenza virus infection.
“He was changing the world,” Sherry says.
But her world came crashing down last summer with the news that Cason had suffered a heart attack. He went to sleep at his Wisconsin home in August, and never woke up.
Doctors explained he’d caught a virus that affected his heart muscle. The healthy, Boston Marathon runner and ironman competitor had no symptoms.
COVID-19 travel restrictions meant Cason hadn’t seen his parents since 2021, though Sherry and Doug were planning a trip to Wisconsin just three weeks before his death.
“As a mom, what an awful regret,” she says, behind tears.
“Who would have ever have thought…” she says, sifting through photos of her son. “We’re so busy… we think we have the time, that we’ll wake up tomorrow and go to work… we need to stop and appreciate what we have.”
In the midst of their grief, friends of Cason’s — two women who grew up running cross country and track & field with him at St. Michael’s, St. Anne’s and St. Christopher schools — decided they wanted to do something in his honour.
“We thought it would be fitting to have a run, and raise money for the Heart & Stroke Foundation,” said Johanna Varsava. “Because running and research were so important to him.”
A 5K Run & Walk for “Cason’s Cause” is planned for Saturday, May 27 at St. Patrick’s High School in Sarnia, from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.
Sherry suggested a $1,000 goal, but already, Cason’s fundraising page has raised just under $5,000.
“Anything would be appreciated…we know how much he benefitted from funding,” Sherry says of Cason, who had obtained the highly competitive and prestigious Open Philanthropy Fellowship from the Life Sciences Research Foundation to support his work on influenza. The Foundation awards only 20 fellowships each year to an international pool of applicants.
“Research was his world. Without the scientists, we don’t get the vaccines, or the treatment. And that’s what he was doing — he was finding a way to treat the common flu.”
And while Sherry says it’s important to spread the word about heart disease — even among the young and healthy like Cason — she just wants participants to come out and enjoy some family time, something she wishes she’d had more of.
“Don’t wait,” she said. “Do the things you want to do, and appreciate what you have — today.”
For more on Cason’s Cause, visit: https://heartandstroke.crowdchange.ca/28238