OKLAHOMA CITY (Feb. 8, 2013) – Born with a rare congenital heart disease, Gavin Kuykendall has defied the odds thanks to the talent of surgeons and the perseverance of his parents, who worked hard to ensure he received the best medical care.
As part of Gavin’s treatment, the family has had to travel to California for two key surgeries, trips that strained their finances. They want other Oklahoma families who face similar circumstances to have it easier than they did.
Fortunately, they have a well-known advocate in family friend Brandon Weeden. The Cleveland Browns quarterback, a former football star at Oklahoma State, is working with the Kuykendalls and The Children’s Hospital Foundation to raise money to establish an endowed chair for a heart surgeon at The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, where Gavin received much of his treatment.
Weeden, who was on the Oklahoma Christian University campus Friday as the keynote speaker for the annual OC Athletic Hall of Fame Dinner, talked during a news conference at OC’s Garvey Center about his work with the foundation and a host of other subjects. Six-year-old Gavin Kuykendall joined Weeden at the microphone and talked about his friendship with Weeden, calling him “my best friend.”
“There are so many kids,” said Faith Kuykendall, Gavin’s mother. “We’ve been at Children’s Hospital a lot. 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.”
Before birth, Gavin was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a disease in which the left side of the heart doesn’t develop completely and is unable to send enough blood to the body. Faith and her husband, Adam, were given three options for Gavin – he could receive a heart transplant, three-stage cardiac surgery, or return home with hospice. They decided on the surgery.
Gavin was born Oct. 13, 2006, and underwent his first heart surgery at The Children’s Hospital when he was five days old. Four months later, he had his second surgery, which he survived despite a host of medical complications.
While still in the hospital, he began to refuse every bottle and lost the use of the left side of his body. Doctors determined that he had suffered a mini-stroke. Nurses visited the Kuykendalls’ home every week for therapy sessions until Gavin was 2½ years old. At times, he suffered seizures and had to return to the hospital.
In 2009, it was time for Gavin’s third surgery, but the surgeon who had performed the first two procedures had moved to California. The Kuykendalls chose to travel there and use the surgeon with experience handling Gavin’s case. That surgery was successful and a year later, when doctors determined Gavin needed a pacemaker, the family again went to California for that procedure.
“We had to sell our home before the third surgery, we were in so much medical debt,” Faith Kuykendall said. “But we always said, from day one, we would do whatever we could to get the best care for him.”
Adam Kuykendall and Weeden’s future wife, Melanie, met while working at a shipping company and the families became fast friends.
“They had Gavin and we knew all of the problems that they had,” Brandon Weeden said. “We’ve always liked Adam and Faith. We could just hang out with them. I became Gavin’s biggest fan and he was mine. It took on a life of its own. I knew that when I was in a position to help, I wanted to help.”
After a star-studded career at Oklahoma State, Weeden became Cleveland’s starting quarterback as a rookie. Last summer, he held a charity golf event, the Brandon Weeden Annual Golf Challenge, with the funds going toward The Children’s Hospital and the efforts to establish the endowed chair. He’s planning on conducting a quarterback camp this summer for the same purpose.
“I’ve always been a believer that you should give back as much as possible,” Weeden said. “If you’re passionate about something and you’re in a position to help and it’s the right thing to do, you should do it.”
Today, Gavin is an active kindergarten student who soon will be playing baseball. He and his parents and younger brother attend Broken Arrow Church of Christ. When Weeden received the phone call from the Browns that he’d been drafted, Gavin was sitting beside him.
“That pacemaker did wonders for him,” Faith Kuykendall said. “He can pretty much go nonstop. He is pretty energetic.”
The Children’s Hospital Foundation is the only nonprofit organization in Oklahoma whose sole focus is the advancement of pediatric research and education while supporting specialized clinical care for Oklahoma’s children. The foundation, created in 1983, has raised and leveraged matching funds to create more than $80 million for pediatric research, quality specialized clinical care and education programs.
For more information:
Faith Kuykendall’s website: http://www.gavinheart.blogspot.com/
Brandon Weeden’s website: http://www.brandonweeden3.com/
The Children’s Hospital Foundation website: http://okchf.org/