When Melissa and Larry Munch were pregnant with their son Kyle, they learned he was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition. At the time, they lived in Rockford and it was recommended to them that they seek care at Advocate Children’s Hospital – and they did just that. Once born, Kyle became a patient of Dr. Van Bergen and Dr. Ilbawi at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.
At just one month old, Kyle had his first balloon valvuloplasty to widen his heart valve. Then again at six months old, he had another. Kyle had open heart surgery at age one and again at age four, when doctors replaced his aortic valve with his pulmonary valve.
Just recently, he had an artificial valve inserted. After a total of five surgeries so far, Kyle is dependent on a pacemaker. He visits Advocate Children’s Hospital every few months to monitor his heart health, and will certainly require more surgeries in the future, as replacement valves don’t grow with his body.
Today, Kyle is in seventh grade – and nobody can tell that this 12-year-old has a pacemaker when he’s on the baseball field. This diehard Cubs fan loves baseball. Kyle has been playing since he was 5-years-old, and for the last three years, on his travel team with the Oswego Cobras.
On the baseball field, Kyle primarily plays first base, just like his favorite player, Anthony Rizzo.
Trip of a lifetime
Kyle was among four patients from Advocate Children’s Hospital invited to fly to Phoenix for a three-day visit to spring training. The four kids – who are battling cancer and heart health issues – got to bring along their best friends and family members as part of the all-expenses-paid trip, which was a surprise they learned about just last week.
On Valentine’s Day, the patients, their best friend and their families were invited to Cubs headquarters at Wrigley Field. A video they were shown presented highlights of the Cubs’ heart-stopping World Series win in 2016 led into a recorded segment with Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr., who personally invited each of the four to camp. The Cubs, Advocate Children’s Hospital, American Airlines and Sheraton Hotels, the Official Hotel of MLB, partnered together to provide the behind-the-scenes experience.
Kyle chose his best friend, Robert Gonzalez, to accompany him on the spring training trip. His friend and fellow baseball player, Robert, has known him since the first grade, and acted as his “bodyguard” after Kyle’s most recent surgery.
“We grew up watching the Cubs together,” Robert said.
Robert continues to look out for Kyle and has always been an outstanding friend.
Cubbie for life
On Monday, the group touched down in Mesa, Arizona, where they enjoyed dinner and a celebration. On Tuesday, they headed to Sloan Park to meet up with the team to stretch, play catch and get to know each other.
“That was amazing. I can’t believe I just did that,” Kyle said just moments after taking part in a team shaking hands with Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and other star players and coaches from his favorite baseball team.
But then, Cubs Manager Joe Maddon had another surprise. In an emergency press conference, Maddon signed all four patients to one-day contracts with the team.
“You guys are very welcome to be here. It was great to have you here today, and hopefully this is something you can frame and put up on your walls,” Maddon said.
The Advocate Children’s Heart Institute is among the largest pediatric cardiovascular programs in the Midwest. More than 40,000 babies are born each year with heart defects. With your support, we can mend broken hearts for years to come. To help in the live saving care of patients like Kyle, visit our website to make a gift.