Gavin Kuykendall walked into the clubhouse at Oak Tree National Golf Course. Now a normal kid who loves sports, video games and playing outside, he sat down on the second of two rows during the Swing From the Heart Golf Tournament opening press conference.
Seconds later, family friend — and Edmond Santa Fe graduate, former Oklahoma State University quarterback and NFL quarterback— Brandon Weeden sat down. Together, the pair have become the frontmen in the scene of Oklahoma children’s heart health.
And on Thursday the pair announced the creation of the Children’s Hospital Foundation Brandon Weeden Endowed Research Chair in Pediatric Surgery after the foundation had reached their funding goal of a million dollars.
Weeden said after the press conference that he was ecstatic the goal was reached, even though the struggles of fund raising sometimes put him out of his element.
“After our first year, I can’t remember what we netted, but I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we’re going to be doing this forever,’” Weeden said. “It’s a weird spot. It’s hard for me to go and ask people for money. A million dollars is a lot of money, and with only doing one event, it makes it challenging to get to that number.”
At Oak Tree, Weeden and Gavin — and the doctors, hospital personnel, family support systems and foundation supporters that flanked them — were able to relish in the fact that their goal had finally been met.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been a fun one,” Weeden said.
Melanie Weeden, Brandon Weeden’s wife, met Gavin’s parents in college. The Weeden’s and the Kuykendall’s immediately became close friends, and Gavin was born right around the same time. When it became evident Gavin would need extensive heart treatment, Brandon and his wife were ready to do whatever it took to help their friends out. That willingness led to the creation of the endowment research fund.
The goal was always to benefit children in Oklahoma. Before, young Oklahomans were traveling out of state to have their extensive heart treatments completed. The travel put more pressure on an already stressful circumstance.
But on Thursday, Dr. Harold Burkhart — recipient of the million dollar research endowment fund — took to the podium to state that 560 cases of heart surgery had been completed in-state last year alone. According to Burkhart, the endowment’s monies will help his team and hospital continue to explore stem-cell research.
Part of the research, Burkhart briefly explained, was aimed at making a single-pump heart last a lifetime. If that happens, it could eliminate needs for pediatric heart transplants. That would allow even more young Oklahomans the chance to stay in-state for their heart treatment needs.
Fighting back tears while talking about Gavin from the podium Thursday, it was evident that Gavin had greatly touched Weeden’s life. Gavin verbalized the same about Weeden immediately after the press conference.
“I feel very thankful, he’s just been very helpful during my life,” Gavin said. ‘He’s my inspiration.”
As for the future of the endowment fund, Weeden was tentative on setting a number in stone, but he’s adamant in doing whatever he can to help keep Oklahoma heart patients in state with Dr. Burkhart.
“It’s hard to put a number on it, there are so many things with the research,” Weeden said. “In order to keep a guy like Harold Burkhart in the state of Oklahoma, you have to give him everything he needs. Everyone understands that. I’m going to help as much as I can along the way.”