The Edmond Sun
As 6-year-old Gavin Kuykendall hammed it up with his pal Brandon Weeden Friday morning at Oklahoma Christian University, you’d never know he had a potentially life-threatening illness.
Gavin first challenged the odds before he was born when he was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a rare congenital heart disease where the left side of the heart doesn’t develop completely and is unable to send enough blood to the body.
Before his birth, Adam and Faith Kuykendall, his parents, were given three options regarding their son: A heart transplant, three-stage cardiac surgery or return home with hospice.
Adam and Faith chose to do whatever it would take to give their son a chance at life and decided to proceed with the three-stage heart surgery.
On Oct. 13, 2006, Gavin was born at OU Medical Center. At five days old, he successfully underwent his first heart surgery at The Children’s Hospital. Once he could breathe on his own, the new family of three was homebound with an oxygen tank and pulse ox, a type of monitor, in tow.
Gavin underwent the second of three heart surgeries just four months after his birth. His parents were told this would be the easiest of the procedures. Little did they know it would become the hardest after a host of complications.
A fighter in every way, Gavin’s health improved and in 2009 it was time for his third and final surgery. Faith said the family had to sell their home before the surgery to keep up with medical bills.
“But we always said from day one we would do whatever we could to get the best care for him,” she said.
The surgeon who performed Gavin’s prior procedures had relocated to California. Not wanting to place Gavin’s life into the hands of a surgeon unfamiliar with their son’s history, the family traveled more than 1,300 miles to San Diego. In spite of the logistical hardship, Gavin’s final procedure was a success and he quickly progressed.
One year after surgery, due to a low heart rate, Gavin’s physicians recommended that a pacemaker be inserted. That meant another procedure, another trip to California and additional time away from home.
WEEDEN SWINGS FROM THE HEART
Adam Kuykendall and Weeden’s future wife Melanie met while working at a shipping company. The families became fast friends. Weeden, a star quarterback at Edmond Santa Fe High School and for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, just finished his rookie NFL season with the Cleveland Browns.
Weeden was at OC to be the keynote speaker Friday night for the induction ceremony related to the OC Athletic Hall of Fame. He is also working with the Children’s Hospital Foundation to raise money to establish an endowed chair for a heart surgeon who would be staffed there.
“We’ve been at Children’s Hospital a lot,” said Faith Kuykendall. “It’s a teaching hospital and a lot of families can’t afford to take their kids anywhere else. There are no options sometimes but to let them pass away. Medical technology has advanced and so many kids now are living through these surgeries, but we have to have the right person to do it.”
Plans for the 2013 Brandon Weeden Annual Golf Challenge — Swing from the Heart — are in the final stages, Weeden said. Proceeds raised go directly to the foundation. A couple of other fundraising ideas are in the works, Weeden said.
Information about this year’s event, which was at Oak Tree National in 2012, will soon be posted at www.brandon
weeden3.com, Weeden’s official website. Weeden said last year’s event exceeded expectations.
INSPIRATION IS A 2-WAY STREET
Today, Gavin is an active kindergartner who soon will be playing baseball. The family attends the Broken Arrow Church of Christ. His mother said the pacemaker did wonders for him.
“He can pretty much go non-stop,” she said. “He’s pretty energetic.”
Based on their smiles, answers to questions and the way they interacted with each other it was clear that Gavin and the NFL quarterback were best buds. When the Browns called Weeden to tell him he had been drafted, Gavin was sitting beside him.
Weeden said when he got into a position where he was able to help he wanted to get involved on a one-on-one level.
“He’s truly an inspiration,” Weeden said of Gavin. “You’d never know he had any problems. He’s a little normal 6-year-old kid who unfortunately was dealt a lot of adversity.”
Friday morning, Gavin was on the OC campus, sitting on Weeden’s knee, brightening up the room with his pep and infectious smile. He was asked what he likes about football.
“I love watching him play football because every time he plays football I feel like I’m playing football too,” Gavin said.
Gavin said the Browns, the Eagles and OSU are, not surprisingly, his favorite teams. While Gavin and Weeden were talking about what they do together, including playing with Weeden looked at him and said, “Who wins?”
“You. And me. It’s not just about you,” Gavin quipped, drawing a lot of laughs.
In the game of life, it’s clear that they both have won.
FOR MORE information about OU Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital Foundation, call 271-2260 or visit okchf.org.
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