The man has won championships, worn the belts, soaked up the adulation and manic applause after winning triumphs following heated combat. But it was nothing, not even close, not even in the same sphere as when Steve Cunningham and wife Livvy got the news from the nurse at Children Hospital of Pittsburgh at 7:30 AM on Friday morning that the heart was placed inside their daughter Kennedy, and it was, and it is, beating.
Little Kennedy Cunningham, so brave, so fearless, so fragile, such a role model to her parents and siblings and basically anyone who has come across her story, and learned how her heart was failing, and how she’d need a transplant to stay alive….I had to ask Cunningham, who I know to be a main of intense faith, is this a miracle?
“Oh yes, I’ve just witnessed a miracle,” the 38-year-old heavyweight boxer told me on Friday morning, just two hours after the nurse delivered the wondrous news, that the organ was not being rejected.
“Hearing that the heart was in, and everything was looking good trumps winning every champion, in every sport, at once,” Cunningham (28-6 with 13 KOs; former cruiserweight champion; fights on Main Events card March 14) said. “We’re not on top of the world, we’re on top of the universe!”
Good news is welcome right now; the Cunninghams clustered in the waiting room after Livvy and Kennedy sped to the hospital after getting word that a heart was available at about 1:20 AM on Thursday late-night. The TV was on, and it was Eric Garner news, and footage of protests, and Ferguson and Michael Brown was in the air, understandable as Cunningham comes from similar sorts of streets and atmospheres which Brown and Garrner knew all too well.
“Yes, it is a difficult time, we have this melting pot that seems ready to blow, in the communities and with the police,” he told me. “You know me, I post that material on Facebook, and talk about it, but all my energy and my essence was with the little one.”
The surgery took between 3 1/2 and 4 hours, and the fighter admitted to me that maybe the hardest thing he’s ever had to do occurred right before the open-heart procedure began.
“We were going to walk away, so she could have the procedure, and, I’m gonna keep it real, I didn’t know if we’d see her again, alive,” Cunningham told me, his voice halting. “I mean, it’s open heart surgery. So, I stopped, to take another look.”
Nobody verbalized it, but the thought was there, real, dark, unfathomable…they didn’t know if she’d make it. But this isn’t a family which lives in a bubble of 24-7 optimism; they consider the possibility that this heart ailment would defeat this pound for pound superstar fighter, little Kennedy. “We keep it real, that’s a possibility we talk about,” he admitted.
The family relocated, with the aid of the faith community and the boxing community, both of which spread the word to help raise funds, to Pittsburgh. That’s because time was going to be of the essence when and if a heart was located, which could then be moved into Kennedy’s vessel. The unspoken knowledge of that hoped-for development came with a downside; that heart would have to come from a being who’d expired.
Ouch; that weighs on the parents of children Steve Jr. (12); Cruz (3) and Kennedy.
The Cunninghams know that the heart inside their daughter came from another 9-year-old girl. They don’t know the circumstances of her passing, or anything about her. They just know the immensity of the gratitude they feel toward her, and her family, for giving the sort of gift that makes a billion dollars worth of jewels and fancy cars and such worthless trifles in comparison.
Steve Cunningham finished with a message for the family of the donor: “I thank that family and God bless them for giving a gift, the value of which cannot be measured.”
Again, I say, amen.
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