Bruce Apar, author of the following article and Dad to Harrison who passed away five years ago, is a long-time board member of KIDS FIRST! Bruce always put his kids first and continues to do so. Bruce’s retelling his tale brings tears and a smile to my face at the same time. His love of family and life are as refreshing as spring. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do and see the promise of new life.
I remember this week. I remember it five years ago.
It was another birthday. It was spring in the air. It was the madness of NCAA tournament hoops. It was the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It was the birth of a legacy that every day emboldens my soul.
When Harrison needed his third open heart surgery in 2003, the first open date at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was March 20. It is the same city where, in 1987, Harrison sprang to life from Elyse at Pennsylvania Hospital, the place Rocky’s son was born, in the movies.
Fifteen years later, we sensed serendipity in returning to the city of Harrison’s birth for a critical operation, scheduled on my birthday, no less.
“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,” wrote 18th Century poet Alexander Pope. In that spirit, tethered to the oxygen tank that let both him and us breathe easier while he was quarantined in our home for the prior 11 weeks, Harrison walked purposefully to his appointment with destiny, full of the same combative confidence as his Philadelphia soulmate of the silver screen.
Where our son and Rocky were worlds apart is in physicality. Whatever form of undiagnosed dwarfism visited Harrison, it severely stunted his growth short of even the legendary Tom Thumb, of P.T. Barnum fame.
What we grew to admire with parental pride is a fortitude, self-esteem and charisma that belied his 37-inch, 37-pound frame.
Thanks to Harrison’s passion for sports — he briefly competed against peers virtually twice his size — I learned the inner resolve it takes to hold your head high even when low to the ground.
Thanks to his academic honors and way with words, I learned — as he addressed classmates at the 2001 Mildred E. Strang Middle School graduation — “Dreams do not come easily, but if you stretch enough, nothing is out of reach.”
Starting a secret diary the eve before his surgery, Harrison believed it inevitable that, the next day, he would “… give my dad a refreshing birthday gift wrapped in flesh — a son’s healthy heart.” Less than 24 hours after authoring that, Harrison emerged from the operating room with his dad’s birthday gift pulsing like new. Then, the next day, came cardiac arrest. The best efforts of six doctors huddled over him were not enough: Harrison was gone.
“Will daddy ever be happy again?” our daughter Elissa asked Elyse three days later.
At first, you are not sure, and wonder forlornly if hope, as Pope poeticized, ever again will spring eternal.
Yet, just as spring always returns, so, somehow, does the prospect of better times ahead.
At the foot of the flagpole at Harrison Apar Field of Dreams in Yorktown Heights, a plaque is posted three-feet from the ground, the same height as Harrison, to remind kids and adults alike that the true measure of a person is never in inches. It is in character.
Such is the legacy of a little person who continues to influence those who knew him, and those who never met him.
As the rites of spring are renewed, I revel in the return of kids like Harrison making the joyful noise of bat on ball and giddily cheering on their teammates.
I can hear that tiny umpire voice right now, uttering his two favorite words: Play ball!
For the rest of my March 20s, I want but one thing: That Harrison knows he came through on his birthday promise by giving me the gift of a lifetime: His.
Bruce Apar is the guest of Ed Ciffone’s UTY Watchdog Report, on Yorktown Cablevision channel 74, Friday, March 21, at 9:30 p.m. Read his blog at
Please consider making a contribution to the Foundation named in Harrison’s honor which makes possible the “Field of Dreams.”
Harrison Apar Field of Dreams Foundation
P.O. Box 1383
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598