Faith Kuhn is 8 years old. She has had more major surgeries in her life than she has had birthdays.
Let that seep in for a minute.
This remarkable child has endured 11 surgeries. Surgeries to her brain. Surgeries to her spine. Surgeries to her eyes. Some scheduled, some emergency. Surgeries that would rattle any normal adult, let alone a frail girl.
And yet, this precious child remains strong, happy and resolute. As much as any 8-year-old.
“She has so much joy for life, and strength and will,” her father, Chad, said.
On Saturday, some prominent local pro baseball players, including former Cleveland High standout Blake Swihart and former Albuquerque Academy slugger Max Walla, – donated their time to help raise some money to help the Kuhn family.
The Albuquerque Baseball Academy hosted the third annual “Throw Cancer a Curve All-Skills Baseball Camp,” and raised over $8,000.
The ABA cut a check for $2,439 to the Justin Solomon Foundation, named for a former Piedra Vista player battling leukemia and a kidney transplant, both in the past couple of years.
The ABA cut a check for $2,439 for the Martin L. Romero Scholarship Fund, in memory of Martin Romero, a former South Valley Little Leaguer who passed recently from brain cancer. The ABA also donated $1,000 in equipment to South Valley Little League.
And the ABA cut a check for $2,339 to Chad and Tonia Kuhn, Faith’s parents.
ABA officials had a check ready for $2,439. They tore it up, and made out a new one for $100 less.
At the end of Saturday’s camp, officials instead handed Faith a $100 bill.
“She’s awesome,” Swihart said.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal this: I know Faith. Chad is my oldest friend, a guy who comes from a spectacularly humble and marvelous family. We both played baseball at Cibola, and as a supplement to our friendship, I now cover his Valley High baseball team, where he coaches.
There are three Kuhn children: Nolan, 14; Kayla, 12; and the tiny, always-beaming Faith.
Faith is a terrific kid, in every possible way.
She’s an extraordinary person, too. It boggles the mind to comprehend what strength she must have to endure 11 surgeries – including one to her brain on the day she was born.
It is difficult to speak about Faith Kuhn without being shaken just a little. She’s overcome more than anyone I know. Probably more than anyone you know.
She was born with spina bifida, the most common, permanently disabling birth defect in this country.
But this tale of medical misfortune goes so much beyond that.
She had a shunt placed in her brain at birth – “the first hour of her life,” her father said – in order that brain fluids could be distributed to other parts of the body. It serves to control spinal fluid, in essence. Faith’s spinal cord was exposed at birth.
That was the first of three brain surgeries, including something called Chiari malformation surgery. This addresses structural defects in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance. (Faith walks, as she always has, with arm crutches, although the little fireball can certainly scoot around.)
The Chiari malformation led to hydrocephalus, which causes an abnormal accumulation of spinal fluids in the brain. Which is why she needs the shunt, something that’s been replaced multiple times.
In the past four years, Faith also developed scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. In September in Los Angeles, she had a surgery to insert two growing rods in her back. Two months later, one of the rods in her back poked out of her tiny body, and the family had to fly back to LA for emergency surgery.
At the end of that week, getting off the plane at the Sunport, they noticed that same rod had come loose and was jutting out once more. Unable to afford a last-minute plane fair, they drove back to California the next morning for another emergency surgery.
As I said, it boggles the mind. This little girl is 8. Can you imagine?
Of course, the multiple surgeries and myriad hospital stays have caused some financial hardships for the family. They have set up a fundraising site at gofundme.com, specifically for Faith. When you visit the site, you’ll find an 8-year-old sports nut, in a New York Yankees hat, smiling large.
That is Faith. That is her pretty much all the time. She was a very attentive spectator Saturday during the camp.
“She has a zeal for life,” her father said in a way that dads will understand.
She is relentlessly upbeat. She attends all of the practices and events of her older siblings, and Nolan, a baseball player, and Kayla, a gymnast, dote on her. They give her the space to be independent – and Faith most assuredly is that – but are always near her side for support, whatever form it may take.
“She wants to do everything her siblings can do,” Chad Kuhn said.
It’s a story that rocks your foundation and infuses you with hope, all at once. The Kuhns are with the local Shriners Hospital for Children, which has absorbed a good deal of the medical costs, and insurance has helped defray some, as well. But the burden, financially, has taken a toll.
And yet, it is Faith who continues to give her parents and her family a reason to believe that the happiness, like her smile, won’t ever end.
“She has blessed our life so much,” Chad said. “We have learned that nothing is impossible, and that life is not that bad. I think God gave her that (spirit) because she wasn’t given a perfectly functioning body, so she was given a perfectly functioning will.”