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Cedar Rapids teen hopes to share unique interest with others

Conner Ties grows passion for animals with zoological collection

Connor Ties, 17, gets a kiss from Charlie, a 9-year old Boston Terrier mix, at Cedar Valley Humane Society in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Ties is celebrating his ten year anniversary of surviving a brain tumor, and is a regular volunteer at the shelter. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)
Connor Ties, 17, gets a kiss from Charlie, a 9-year old Boston Terrier mix, at Cedar Valley Humane Society in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, July 10, 2014. Ties is celebrating his ten year anniversary of surviving a brain tumor, and is a regular volunteer at the shelter. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Most 17-year-olds don’t get excited about roadkill or bones they find while hiking, but most 17-year-olds aren’t like Conner Ties.

The teen with a budding interest in animals and nature is marking 10 years since his diagnosis at age 7 with two brain tumors that had grown together around his brainstem.

“I think it really helped me see how precious life is,” Conner said of his cancer fight. “Because I almost lost mine, it helped me see how precious (life) was and that I should take care of it.”

Conner, who will be a junior at Xavier High School, hopes to one day become a conservation biologist or a zoologist. He already has a 300-piece zoological collection that he keeps in his room, which includes items such as a buffalo’s scapula, a Gemsbok antler animal skulls and furs.

“It all started with collecting rabbit furs from Minnesota and then getting some antlers,” Conner said. The teen also has visited numerous parks and zoos across the country. “Just seeing those spectacular animals and places compelled me to save them.”

Lynn Ties, Conner’s mother, said her son was given only a 20 percent chance of survival when he was diagnosed. When he turned 8, he had his wish to go behind the scenes at the San Diego Zoo granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

But by 2007, Conner had beaten the odds and has been able to focus his attention on growing his zoological collection, volunteering at the Cedar Valley Humane Society and working to become an Eagle Scout.

He also recently returned from a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C., where he was Iowa’s sole representative at the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment through George Mason University. The summit offered Conner the chance to learn more about the environment, visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, and meet U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

“I take my zoological collection around to schools to show kids how amazing these animals are and why they need to be saved,” Conner said.

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