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‘Littlest Knights Fan’ doubly linked by birth to Memorial Cup team

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The son of a London Knights doctor and his wife, two-year-old Dawson Arbeau arrived in the world with a big assist from a team goalie’s mom.

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On Instagram, he’s known as the “Littlest Knights Fan.”

Cute photos and videos of two-year-old Dawson Arbeau, dressed in London Knights gear, make up the social media account operated by his parents.

But what the visuals don’t tell you is the fascinating backstory of the toddler’s birth connection to the Knights, the Ontario Hockey League championship team that’s now chasing the Memorial Cup.

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Little Dawson’s father is Ryan Arbeau, one of the team’s doctors.

His surrogate – the woman who carried and delivered him – is Cathy Willmore, who in what she calls “a really weird coincidence” is the mother of the Knights’ backup goalie, Owen Willmore.

After trying for nine years to have a child, Arbeau said he and his wife, Sarah, began looking for other options. Through “a friend of a friend,” they were put in touch with Willmore, who’d been thinking of becoming a surrogate.

Surrogate pregnancies can be one of two types. Traditional surrogacy uses the father’s sperm to fertilize the surrogate’s egg, meaning the baby carries the surrogate’s DNA. Another procedure, the one the Arbeaus used, is known as gestational surrogacy. An embryo is created using the father’s sperm and the biological mother’s egg and implanted in the surrogate to carry the baby to term.

Paul and Cathy Willmore wear London Knights gear with Ryan, Dawson and Sarah Arbeau, shortly after Dawson was born. Cathy Willmore, mother of Knights backup goalie Owen Willmore, was the surrogate who carried Ryan and Sarah’s embyro to term. Ryan Arbeau is a team doctor. (Supplied photo)
Paul and Cathy Willmore wear London Knights gear with Ryan, Dawson and Sarah Arbeau, shortly after Dawson was born. Cathy Willmore, mother of Knights backup goalie Owen Willmore, was the surrogate who carried Ryan and Sarah’s embyro to term. Ryan Arbeau is a team doctor. (Supplied photo)

Willmore said she enjoyed the experience of being pregnant with her own three children. Since she was a teenager, and her aunt had a baby through a surrogate, she’d had the idea of one day becoming a surrogate herself, she said.

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Cathy Willmore and her husband, Paul, met the Arbeaus for the first time on a cold December day in 2020 outside the Covent Garden Market, across the street from the Budweiser Gardens arena where their son was practising hockey at the time.

“We didn’t originally realize that Ryan had anything to do with the Knights,” said Cathy Willmore.

What began as an “awkward” conversation eased when the two couples realized how closely linked both were to the Knights, she said. After getting to know each other better over several “dates,” Willmore said she knew she wanted to help the Arbeaus.

Knights fans since they moved to London from New Brunswick 15 years ago, Arbeau and his wife operate a sports medicine clinic in the city.

The years he and his wife spent trying to have a baby, with all their setbacks, were difficult, Arbeau said. “You kind of get numb to it.”

With one remaining embryo, Arbeau said Dawson was their “last chance.”

Parenthood has been “fantastic,” though exhausting at times, he added.

“He’s such a fun little dude,” Arbeau said of his son. “He’s happy, he’s smiley. It’s just been great.”

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Watching the Arbeaus with their son, Willmore said “it’s pretty special” to see their love for him.

As for her part in helping to create a family, “it’s something that you really can’t put into words,” Willmore said.

She said she didn’t realize how many couples struggle to have children naturally until she signed up with a surrogacy agency. She received profiles of many couples looking for help. Some had been looking “for years,” she added.

Willmore and Arbeau say their families often do things together, and that includes cheering on the Knights. Dawson is like “a celebrity around the rink,” Willmore said.

Arbeau figures his son knows about 100 words by now. One of his most frequently-used phrases? “Go Knights.”

nbrennan@postmedia.com

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