BRAINERD, Minn. — Chris Giddings says his son Kellen is nothing short of a walking, talking miracle, and the 6-year-old will have his wish granted this week at a Gull Lake resort.
Three years ago, the boy developed a lazy eye and after using an eye patch without improvement, his parents got a second opinion and were shocked to learn their avid golfer actually had a brain tumor.
“We were in a situation where everything was fine in our lives, and it got flipped upside down in one day,” said Giddings, a 42-year-old engineering manager and Lake Elmo resident.
A Minneapolis-based children’s charity and Madden’s on Gull Lake are making the boy’s golfing dream come true July 16-20 with a stay at the resort, which includes a private lesson with a golf professional, where the boy will be treated like a VIP.
“He could’ve been born with the tumor, or he could’ve developed the tumor early on and it grew from there. The tumor was the size of a tangerine, and it was right behind his eyes, so that stretched his optic nerve, which left him blind in his left eye,” Giddings said.
Wishes & More aims to enhance the life of a child fighting a terminal or life-threatening condition -- in the boy’s case, a brain tumor, a stroke and meningitis -- by providing extraordinary experiences.
“Kellen is a very special youngster, and we are delighted to provide this unique wish for him,” said Wishes & More Volunteer President Karla Blomberg in a news release.
Giddings said, “Did I ever think that we would be using a Wishes & More-type foundation? No. But for what they do for these kids, you can’t even comprehend it unless you’ve been through it.”
His son underwent a 12-hour brain surgery in May 2016 to remove the tumor but suffered a post-surgery infection and contracted meningitis, which resulted in a stroke that temporarily paralyzed his legs and right arm, and left him unable to talk.
“It all happened so fast. We asked every doctor a million questions. It was awful for us. Nicole (Kellen’s mom) and I were in really rough shape, but we had to do what we could for our son, and I think what pulled us through the most was his resiliency,” Giddings said of his wife and team of doctors.
“We noticed some leakage from his spinal cord from the spinal tap they did, and that’s when he contracted meningitis. When the meningitis, when the infection occurred, we almost lost him twice. We almost lost him that first night when he had the stroke in 2016.”
After two months of intensive in-patient therapy, the childhood cancer survivor walked out of the hospital in braces but had to endure a second brain surgery, which required him to stay in the hospital during Christmas that same year.
“After the meningitis subsided or the infection subsided, he ended up going to a rehabilitation hospital right away, and I wheeled him in a wheelchair in there with even a neck splint -- he couldn’t even hold his head up -- and seven weeks later, he walked out,” Giddings said.
His son is still on various medications, deals with seizures and visits with his many doctors, but the boy finds “true joy, 24/7, through his passion of golf,” according to the children’s charity.
“As a result of the tumor, his pituitary and hypothalamus were damaged, so he’s on a lot of medication for thyroid, and also he can’t produce growth hormones. We’ve only, in the last year, been able to start administering growth hormone to get him to grow again,” Giddings said.
“He has some cognitive issues -- not significant -- but there’s some attention-deficient issues and whatnot, but he’s a smart kid.”
The 6-year-old will receive an hour-long private lesson Thursday, July 18, with golf professional Bennett Smed at Madden’s and go golfing Saturday at The Classic course, a Madden’s course rated among America’s Top 100 Greatest Public Courses and given five stars by Golf Digest.
“Wishes & More is proud to be a part of his journey and to provide this vacation for his family. We hope that the memories they make this weekend will bring them joy for many years,” Blomberg said.
Giddings said, “Our son is absolutely just excited and tickled to able to do this. We bought him a little plastic club when he was probably 3, before the surgery, and I’m a golfer. ... He just started to get into it more, himself, and he absolutely loves it.”
The child enjoys impersonating professional golfers in mock interviews, practicing on his putting greens and chipping nets at home, religiously watching the Golf Channel, shopping at his favorite store Golf Galaxy, and visiting golf courses and driving ranges.
“We actually had a big training net in our living room for him to hit golf balls every morning. He would wake up at 5 o’clock and hit golf balls and then he’d go to school. We have a putting green in our basement,” Giddings said.
The boy recently competed in the local qualifier of Drive, Chip and Putt, a free nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf, and while he was the youngest, he tied for third out of 24.
“His tenacity in overcoming so many obstacles at such a young age is sure to serve him well in his love of the game of golf and game of life,” Blomberg said.
Wishes & More also provides each wish recipient with a $2,000 scholarship. If a child should pass away without having the opportunity to experience a wish, the charity gives a memorial financial gift to the family to be used at their discretion.
“They’re absolutely wonderful people,” said Giddings, who grew up on the Iron Range and frequently visited the Brainerd lakes area. “They have their own lives, and they do this out of the goodness of their own hearts.”