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New Zealand boy goes on 'bucket list' trip to Celtics game before he goes blind

By Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Louis Corbett, 12, may soon lose his vision due to rare disease
  • He attended a Celtics game Wednesday night, thanks to generous donations
  • The New Zealand boy got thunderous applause at the game

(CNN) -- Just like any other night in the NBA, the starting lineups of the Boston Celtics and visiting Golden State Warriors were introduced over the public address system.

But Wednesday wasn't just any night at Boston's TD Garden. And the loudest ovations were not for members of either team.

Louis "Louie" Corbett, 12, who is rapidly losing his eyesight due to retinitis pigmentosa, was in the house to fulfill his final seeing wish: watch his beloved Boston Celtics play a game.

"Welcome Louis!" flashed on all four sides of the Jumbotron to thunderous applause.

Boy sees favorite team before going blind

"I'm quite excited to be here for the game," Louie told CNN affiliate WCVB.

While the reason for his long journey from Auckland, New Zealand, was distressing, the circumstances that brought two communities on opposite sides of the planet together were extraordinary.

Louie's progressive disorder will eventually deteriorate his vision.

Faced with the grim reality that he will soon lose the ability to see the world around him, his parents wanted to give their youngest of five children an international sightseeing tour.

"This year we're going to try and fill his world with as many beautiful images as we can," his mother, Catherine Corbett, told CNN.

Louie was instructed to make something of an ocular bucket list -- things and places he'd like to see for the first, only and likely last time.

He picked places such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, the Empire State Building and, in a sign of the times, Google headquarters in California.

But the thing he wanted to experience the most wasn't a landmark or a national park. An avid sports fan, Louie wanted to take in a game. And not just any game -- the Boston Celtics.

"For some reason, he really got hooked on American basketball," his mom said. "He cares about nothing else. He is really quite passionate about it."

Making the list was the easy part. Getting there, however, would be trickier. With Louie's eyesight rapidly fading -- by 50% in the past year alone -- the trip was going to have to be soon. Like, matter-of-weeks soon.

Warren Casey, the CEO of a Boston-based software firm, stepped in with a hefty donation and the promise to raise even more.

The fact that Casey's company is based in Boston -- the very place Louie was headed -- had nothing to do with why he got involved.

"That was a random coincidence," he told CNN. "I did it because the Corbetts are my next-door neighbors."

Casey makes the 24-hour-plus trek from his Auckland home to his office in downtown Boston every six weeks. He got Air New Zealand to pick up Louie's airfare tab and donated his own points as well.

Casey and his partners at Ceiba Solutions agreed to pay for the trip no matter how much was raised while friends and strangers from opposite sides of the planet donated about $25,000 in just four weeks.

"It is so touching," Catherine Corbett said. "People are just so supportive."

The fundraising campaign soon picked up steam on social media, reaching strangers far and wide.

"Somebody Tweeted me an article about this boy in New Zealand and told me I should read it," said Corinne Grousbeck, who lives outside of Boston.

Grousbeck is the incoming chair of the trustees at the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the oldest schools for the visually impaired in the country. Her son, 21-year-old Campbell, was blinded by a condition similar to Louie's.

"I completely understood where the Corbetts were coming from in wanting to build a visual memory bank for (Louie)," Grousbeck said. "It's an incredibly difficult thing to have to go through."

But that wasn't the only coincidence; Grousbeck's husband just so happens to own the Boston Celtics.

"Of course when I read about how he was a big Celtics fan, I knew that we had to have him come for a game," she said.

The coincidences didn't end there.

When Grousbeck learned that the Corbetts would be coming to Boston for their game on March 5, she realized she would be unable to give Louie her seats because she had given them away.

"March 5th had coincidentally been scheduled as Perkins School for the Blind Night at the TD Garden (home of the Celtics)," she said. "We'd already given away our seats to the school's students, families and donors."

While Grousbeck made sure Louie and his family had great seats -- practically on the Celtics bench -- she says the real show was the Perkins chorus singing the national anthem.

"I think for a 12-year-old like Louie, for him to be able to watch visually-impaired kids perform the national anthem on a national stage, for him to see what blind people can achieve, that's going to give him the lasting memory," she said.

And his Boston trip was filled with other coincidences as well.

He spent the day Tuesday at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, whose cutting-edge ocular research may one day turn Louie's "farewell to vision" tour into simply one heck of a trip.

Those odds might be long, but smart money wouldn't bet against Louie. He seems to have serendipity on his side.

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