Kia Spruill, 19, plays some one-on-one basketball with her younger brother Cody Garms in the East Elementary School gym Wednesday morning.
Cody Garms stands with his sister, Kia Spruill, his mother, Kim Spruill and physical education teacher Kim Harvey in the East Elementary School gym Wednesday morning.
Seated in the nearly-deserted gym at Brownwood’s East Elementary School Wednesday morning, Kim Spruill watched as her 19-year-old daughter, Kia, and her 9-year-old son, Cody Garms, jostled each other during some spirited and impromptu one-on-one basketball.
Watching her children’s physical activity didn’t make Spruill nervous, even though both have heart conditions. Spruill said she’d rather see them playing basketball than lying hooked up to oxygen.
It was the day East Elementary celebrated its annual Jump Rope for Heart competition, when students raise money for the American Heart Association through pledges for the jump rope contest.
February is American Heart Month.
Cody is a third-grader at East, and at East, he’s been proclaimed “King Braveheart” in honor of what he’s overcome: three open heart surgeries to correct a congenital heart defect, and a fourth surgery last October in which a shunt was inserted.
Cody was just 11 days old at the first surgery.
While waiting for the rest of the school’s third-graders to enter the gym for the jump rope competition, Cody sat with his mother, sister and the school’s physical education teacher, Kim Harvey.
Big sister Kia is a freshman at Ranger College. Kia began having health issues when she was in the seventh grade at Brownwood Middle School, where Harvey was her coach. Kia was diagnosed with a disease of her nervous system that causes issues including irregular heartbeat and received a pacemaker last year.
“Everybody has their favorite superheroes, but I have two,” Spruill said.”
Cody was born to Spruill and Walter Garms at Brownwood Regional Medical Center with no apparent issues. But was Cody was 11 days old, he had a high heart rate and was flown by air ambulance to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.
Cody was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a condition where one of the heart's two ventricles fails to develop during the pregnancy. Doctors said he’d need open-heart surgeries to repair his heart so it will pump his blood through his body.
Kia was 10, and, her brother’s condition made her decide to dedicate her life to working with children. “It was kind of a personal impact,” Kia said. “It was kind of a big hit to me.”
Spruill said her son is doing well, and Cody’s cardiologist has said to let him be a kid and do what he wants. His only restriction: no contact sports.
Cody said “Miss Gossett” is his teacher and math is his favorite subject. He said he’s doing “good” and enjoys P.E.
Harvey said she’s seen the two siblings overcome their medical challenges and haven’t used their conditions as an excuse. The two have been role models for other young people and have been “a true blessing for all of us,” Harvey said.
She said she’s seen this school year that Cody “has such a big heart.” Cody is giving and helpful to others, she said.
Cody said he’s learned to be helpful from the example of his parents.
“We don’t do the ‘poor me’ attitude because each day is a blessing,” Spruill said. She knows there could have been a far worse outcome. Instead, Spruill said, she still gets to tuck her kids in at night and kiss them goodnight.
Spruill and her two children recently traveled to Austin, where Spruill and Cody testified before the Texas Legislature about the need for funding for research into congenital heart disease.
“Our goal is to put a face to the issue, to have a face to remember,” Spruill said. “(Cody) just basically told all of them his story, that he was born with heart issues.”
There are about 40,000 babies born each year in the United States with heart defects, and the majority will require at least one surgery, Spruill said.
“We want to be heard,” Spruill said. “We want to bring awareness to the problem.”
Dr. Joe Young and Dr. Hector Martinez, the Brownwood school district’s superintendent and deputy superintendent, arrived in the gym to watch the jump rope competition.
Principal Nanda Wilbur introduced Young and Martinez to Cody, his mother and his sister. Cody has a “spiritual heart,” Wilbourn told the two. Young spoke with Cody for several minutes and asked him about his experience testifying before the Texas Legislature.
Kia said she think’s it’s amazing to see “how (Cody’s) evolved and how he turned out. He’s very motivated, outgoing and very energetic.”
Replied Cody: he’s faster and better at basketball than Kia.