Weeden draws inspiration from fan

Posted Jan 29, 2013

Quarterback Brandon Weeden has drawn inspiration from Gavin Kuykendall, a six-year old with a heart condition in Oklahoma City.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden has drawn inspiration for his football career, and life, from the way six-year old Gavin Kuykendall has battled hypoplastic heart syndrome, which meant the young man was born with half a heart.

Weeden’s wife, Melanie, worked with Gavin’s dad, Adam, back in Oklahoma and the two families became close friends during the ordeal.

“My wife had her first job with Gavin’s dad straight out of college,” Weeden said. “We would hang out as couples and so, we became friends with the parents first. Gavin was born and brought into the world and we knew, basically from the start, all of the conditions that he dealt with. They just became close friends and we kept in touch ever since.”

Gavin had his first surgery four days after he was born, but he fought through the adversity and has gone on to fulfill many of the goals his mother, Faith, set for him in a letter she wrote during an early hospital stay.

Gavin not only learned to crawl, walk, laugh, play, and cry, but also has gone to Kindergarten and shared in some of Weeden’s most memorable moments.

“There’s nothing better in the world,” Weeden said of making Gavin smile. “Anytime you’re able to make a kid’s day or make somebody around you happy, that’s more meaningful than anything you can do on the football field, or anything you can do in any sport.

“Everybody gets so wrapped up in the game we play, which rightfully so because we do it for a living and it’s a passion, but when you see a kid like Gavin that’s been through all he’s been through and will probably never have an opportunity to play a game like I’m able to play, but on the flipside, still see him achieve stuff and put a smile on his face at the same time, that’s what it’s all about.”

One of those moments Weeden wanted Gavin to experience with him was the NFL Draft. Throughout the evening, as 21 names were read before the Browns drafted Weeden, he was answering Gavin’s questions about the process.

“It was very special,” Weeden recalled. “He had just had a pacemaker put in a couple weeks prior to that night, so I was cautious. I wanted him to be there, but I didn’t want him to get around people because he was coming off of a traumatic surgery. They informed him he was okay to do so, and he was again, full of life, joking around, always wanting to sit next to me. He was really dialed in to what was going on. He was very excited for me and it was a really cool deal.”

Prior to the draft, Gavin had to overcome an obstacle before going through another heart surgery. His surgeon had left the Oklahoma City area, so the Kuykendalls followed him to San Diego for the procedure.

Gavin’s ordeal has inspired the Weedens to help endow a chair to bring a cardiac surgeon to Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma City.

“The Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City has had a hard time bringing in a cardiac surgeon, so we teamed up with them to try to lure a good, qualified specialist in cardiac surgery to come to Oklahoma City,” Weeden said. “I think there’s roughly 150 kids in the state that have the same condition that Gavin has. They’re having to head out of state to get work done. We don’t want that for not only Gavin, but the other kids with the same illness.

“My golf tournament was ‘Swing from the Heart.’ We had our first tournament last year. We’re still in the process of expanding it and going farther with the foundation. We’re going to do the same deal. We had a great turnout last year and we hope to build it even bigger this year.”

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