A first-time win last weekend for a locally-owned horse was made even more exciting given the thoroughbred's namesake.
Brandon's Courage won his first race at Hastings Park on Sunday as family and friends of the late Brandon Tonner cheered on the three-year-old chestnut gelding.
When Wayne Oliver was looking to expand his small stable last year, trainer John Snow approached him about a new horse. Alison Tonner, Brandon's mom, said Oliver agreed but with the stipulation the horse be named after Brandon.
Brandon Tonner died in September 2009 after a two and-a-half year battle with liver disease.
The Delta Secondary grad was just one month away from his 19th birthday and was waiting for a liver transplant - his dad was lined up to be a donor - when he died after developing gas gangrene, a bacterial infection that leads to tissue death.
Alison Tonner said her son was always healthy and an avid athlete. However, in late 2006, after going to the hospital to be checked for suspected kidney stones, the family also learned the teen had gallstones and an enlarged liver and spleen.
Early in 2007, he had further testing at B.C. Children's Hospital and was diagnosed with liver disease.
Despite the disease, Brandon carried on. He finished high school and started working but his health issues forced him to quit after just a few weeks.
In 2008, he was sent to a new specialist at Vancouver General Hospital and by the following year was slated for a liver transplant.
He had a few issues, Tonner said, "But he kept beating everything."
In the summer of 2009, Brandon developed what looked like blood blisters on his left leg and it began to swell. Tonner said by the time they got to VGH the discolouration on his leg and swelling were rapidly spreading.
Doctors had to amputate his left leg in an effort to stop the spread of the gas gangrene infection but after surgery it started to spread to his right leg. He required another surgery to that leg to, again, try to stop the infection from spreading, however did not require a second amputation.
In what doctors called a miracle, Brandon appeared to beat the odds.
The next step was to get strong for his transplant surgery, however, after several weeks in hospital the strain on his body became too much and Brandon's other organs started shutting down.
There was nothing left that could be done and he passed away on Sept. 24, 2009.
Tonner said Oliver had always talked about naming a horse to honour Brandon and his fight.
She said lots of friends and family came out to watch the race and were excited to see Brandon's Courage take an early lead that grew as the race progressed.
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