At three hours old, Kaleo was airlifted to Children’s Hospital LA for an emergency heart surgery. This was his first of 5 open-heart surgeries. He calls the sizable scar running down his chest his “zipper, because it’s been opened up so many times.” When Kaleo was born, the doctors found his anatomy was configured differently. His heart is reversely placed in his upper right chest, almost in his shoulder, his stomach is in the back of his body, and his liver is where his stomach would normally be. Yolanda, Kaleo’s grandmother, says, “He’s the boy in reverse. When he began learning to walk, without any prompting he naturally tried walking backwards.”
Against all odds, Kaleo has endured a long list of medical procedures and conditions. He’s survived two heart attacks and gone through 18 surgeries to remove skin cancer. Kaleo was born with spina bifida, epilepsy, short-term memory loss, and autism.
Growing up with so many challenges, Kaleo is only able to attend school for one hour a day but he never misses. He loves school. His greatest triumph came a few weeks ago at his junior high graduation ceremony. Kaleo was granted the Adversity Award, because despite his situation, every day he shows up to school with a smile, ready to learn.
Yolanda and her husband became Kaleo’s legal guardians years ago. Although they were retired, Kaleo’s 70-year-old grandfather went back to work to help afford Kaleo’s medical bills. It’s been difficult because even as his legal guardians, as his grandparents they can’t enroll him in MediCal or be provided other government assistance. They’ve had to scrape together every penny to make it this far. With earnesty Yolanda shared, “That’s why the food Giving Children Hope has provided our family with every week has made such a difference. People like us, we fall in the cracks. There’s no place for us to turn to. We are so grateful Giving Children Hope has been that kind of friend to us.”
When I asked Kaleo what inspires him to keep going, he matter of factly said, “I have so many adventures to go. I’m blessed to be alive.”
Kaleo showing his ‘zipper’ or scar down his chest.
Kaleo and his grandmother, Yolanda.