MONROE CITY, Mo. — A Tri-State family is spreading awareness of a rare heart condition.
Gavin Mudd was only nine days old when he underwent surgery to correct a serious medical issue. He was born with transposition of the great arteries, meaning his arteries weren't in the right place.
Today, he's a typical teenager, and educating others on heart health holds a special place in his family's heart.
15 years later, Sabrina Mudd still gets emotional thinking about her son's open-heart surgery, just days after his birth.
"It was very scary," Sabrina Mudd said.
Why Gavin was born with a heart defect? The Mudds will never know.
"A lot of research I've done on it, there's really no indication of why this happens. It's just a heart defect that happens in some kids," said Jamie Mudd, Gavin’s father.
But a massive surgery and lifetime monitoring doesn't slow Gavin down.
"I like to play baseball and hang out with friends," Gavin said.
He just can't play contact sports.
Melissa Chinn was Gavin's gym teacher growing up.
"He's never been a complainer, he's never wanted to sit out, he's always wanted to be included, and he's always been included, and he works just as hard as everybody else, he's just got a little special heart," Chinn said.
For the past 10 years, Chinn and her students have teamed up with the American Heart Association to raise money for heart research and compete in cardio activities through the Kids Heart Challenge event.
"Even if they can't raise money, they still get to jump with us and get exercise and do the things that some kids don't ever get to do," Chinn said.
The Mudd family uses the event to educate about heart health.
"To help other kids stay healthy and survive longer," said Grady Mudd, Gavin’s little brother.
"Each year, the student that's recognized has a name on the gym plaque," said Stephanie Jumps with the American Heart Association.
Gavin and his brother Grady have several name plaques on the wall from the event.
"It's just really a testament to that family, that they bring so much awareness and do so much for our organization," Jumps said.
"He's living proof of what can come out of heart surgery," Sabrina Mudd said.
The Kids Heart Challenge takes place in schools nationwide the last week in February.