Over 30 years ago Rick and Teresa Kaepernick became one of the thousands of parents who suffer the loss of a child due to congenital heart defects — not once, but twice in a two year span.
Their son Lance was born with a hypoplastic left heart — missing parts of the left side of his heart. For weeks the Kaepernicks sat by his crib not knowing what to do to help him. Lance passed away just 23 days after his birth.
“Back when Lance passed away they really didn’t do anything (for babies born with hypoplastic heart syndrome). There was no surgery,” Teresa said.
Fifteen months later, the Kaepernicks welcomed Kent into the world. Kent was born with persistent fetal circulation, a condition where much of the blood flow bypasses the lungs. He had two surgeries, but only lived four days. After his death, Teresa said the doctors also found Kent had anomalies in his aortic arch.
The Kaepernicks were hit hard with the loss of their sons, but a year after Kent died Teresa was once again pregnant. This time, she was seen at a high-risk center for pregnant women. The Kaepernicks also agreed to take part in a research project for congenital heart defects.
“Back then … ultrasound was new and most women didn’t have an ultrasound,” Teresa said. “They also did an electrocardiogram on the baby.”
The Kaepernicks were blessed with the birth of a healthy daughter, whom they named Devon. Devon joined her big brother, Kyle, who was born healthy before Lance and Kent.
“In a way everything we went through — and especially my pregnancy with Devon — helped kids down the road,” Teresa said.
The Kaepernicks went on with life, never forgetting their sons and the struggles they went through. When Devon was six years old, however, both Rick and Teresa decided their family was not quite complete. Not wanting to risk having another child born with heart defects, they decided to adopt. And that is when Colin came into their lives.
Today, the family is happy and healthy — and still celebrating their youngest son’s dream becoming reality when he was drafted to play for the San Francisco 49ers last year.
Colin surprised his parents last summer when he asked them to find an organization he could support that helps families dealing with congenital heart defects.
“We were really touched when he said that,” Teresa said.
The organization the Kaepernicks decided to support was Camp Taylor.
Named for the 18-year-old son of organization president Kimberlie Gamino who was born with half a heart, the camp provides a fun and safe experience for youths from 7 to 17 years of age who suffer from heart problems.
“It is the No. 1 birth defect in America,” Gamino said. “Heart disease is an under-served population.”
The camp, which is held in Livermore, Sangar and Santa Clara, provides a variety of activities free of charge to these special children. The camp hosts a full medical staff, and is designed to be safe and fun allowing all of those attending the camp to participate.
“We live everyday life being different,” said Taylor Gamino. “At camp we talk about our heart disease and we feel better, more empowered.”
The nonprofit and volunteer-supported camp will be holding its annual fundraiser on Feb. 11. Rick and Teresa Kaepernick will be sharing their own experiences with congenital heart defects at the “Valentine Hearts” dinner and auction, which will be held at the Doubletree Hotel in Modesto.
Colin Kaepernick made a financial donation to Camp Taylor, and the whole family is hoping to pay a visit and see firsthand the difference the camp is making in the hundreds of children who participate every summer.
“It changes the children’s lives,” Kimberlie Gamino said. “For many it’s the first time they meet other children with the same zipper scar and realize they’re not alone.”
Tickets for the dinner and auction cost $80 per person, and a table for 10 can be reserved for $750.
The silent auction begins at 6 p.m., with the dinner and program starting at 7:45. For more information on the event, contact Kimberlie Gamino at 545-4715 or visit www.kidsheartcamp.org.
To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.