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Teens health condition leads him to video game
Shaw Carter at the company in California that produces World of Warcraft. - photo by For The Times

It makes perfect sense that someone would wish himself inside a fantasy world.

But 17-year-old Shaw Carter may have been the only real person to actually end up there.

Last week, the Gainesville High School junior and his dad, Doug Carter, spent the day at Blizzard Entertainment behind the scenes of the online fantasy game World of Warcraft — a fantasy made real by the Make-A-Wish Foundation that almost didn’t happen.

Shaw Carter discovered World of Warcraft in seventh grade as a land where he could be social when his health wouldn’t allow physical interaction. Carter was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning the left side of his heart was undeveloped. Aside from the social and physical implications of the defect, living with the defect has meant 10 catheterizations, three angioplasties and a number of other surgeries in Carter’s 17 years.

And at the time he found World of Warcraft, a weak immune system kept Carter out of school nearly the entire year.

"It was a way, I guess, for me to play with people, because in seventh grade, I was having some health issues," Carter said. "...I was out of school for six, seven months, and I couldn’t have people over, because if they had a cold and I got it, it lasted for weeks and weeks for me."

The game made worldwide playmates for Carter, who says he’s played with soldiers in Iraq, and enthusiasts in South America, California and Canada. And though he’s a decorated thespian and honor student at Gainesville High School, Carter can talk about dungeons, armor, raids and druids with the best of the college-aged gaming junkies.

While he had been told that his son qualified for the Make-A-Wish program more than once, Doug Carter said his family never took up the opportunity.

"It’s something that we had never pursued, because we were dealing with a lot of battles health-wise," Doug Carter said.

But about a year ago, Shaw learned that other children visited Blizzard Entertainment through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and suddenly, he was a little more interested, Doug Carter said.

The first response wasn’t exactly a granted wish.

"Blizzard was going through a merger ... basically, they said it wasn’t going to happen," said Doug Carter. "We had pretty much written it off.

Shaw Carter made another request; and a Dell laptop came back. And then came what the Carter family describes as a "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" moment: The local foundation called and said there was another opportunity for Shaw to visit Blizzard Entertainment in a week and a half.

"It was like Willie Wonka, and Shaw got the golden ticket," Doug Carter said.

Doug and Shaw Carter traveled together early last week, making a stop at the San Diego Zoo before spending Tuesday at Blizzard. Both young and old Carter describe the experience as fascinating.

Shaw Carter got to play games that haven’t yet been released, see the art and the business behind the game he loves, and his dad got a chance to better understand his son’s love.

More than that, the experience furthered what Doug Carter said he has always tried to instill in his son.

"Our philosophy has always been, and it’s something we’ve tried to instill in him, is that none of us have any guarantees of tomorrow," Doug Carter said. "Each of us need to make the most of each day. He certainly has had some major curve balls thrown at him ... and even though there will be some other medical challenges that he will face, it’s about not letting it defeat him, not letting it hold him back."

And while Shaw Carter’s life is different than most, the next wish he wants granted is one of every man: to "win the lottery, definitely," he said.

But he promises to use the money responsibly.

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