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West // West Oahu Coverstory
Christina O’Connor

Waikele Teenager Named ‘Champion’

Dozens gathered at JW Marriott Ihilani at Ko Olina Resort and Spa May 14 to welcome the guest of honor: 16-year-old Waikele resident Keegan Passos, who recently was named Hawaii’s “Champion” for Children’s Miracle Network’s Champions Across America program.

The program selects one child from each state, recognizing those who have overcome health challenges to accomplish great things.

Keegan has spent countless hours at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children undergoing a slew of surgeries to treat his rare heart condition, tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia, which he has had since birth. He has had three open-heart surgeries, numerous balloon angioplasties and two pacemaker installations.

Through all of this, he has used his experiences to help other kids who face similar challenges by mentoring young patients with heart conditions through the support group Kardiac Kids.

“We’re so proud of Keegan and his family,” said Kapiolani Medical Center CEO Martha Smith during the ceremony.

Keegan, along with his mother, Jullie, and younger sister Kaitlin (his father, Jay, was watching nearby from the front row), stood to address the crowd. They are most excited, they said, to be able to raise funds and awareness for other children with conditions like Keegan’s.

As Hawaii’s champion, Keegan, his parents and sister will travel across the state to talk with various groups on this issue. Last week, for example, the family was on Hawaii island visiting Kapiolani Medical Center sponsors. In November, they are off to Washington, D.C., along with the other Champions, to meet with President Obama to highlight the needs of children with heart conditions.

“I promise to do my best to represent Hawaii,” Keegan told the audience.

When he first found out that he had won this title, Keegan was “really excited.”

“After that, I went to my room and blasted the music and started dancing,” Keegan shared after the ceremony.

“I realized that I could help a lot of people in that position,” he said.

Helping others, after all, has become one of Keegan’s great passions. Through Kardiac Kids, which also provides support for parents and siblings of heart disease patients, Keegan counsels other young patients and helps them overcome their anxieties surrounding their conditions. In some cases, Jullie said she has seen him talk kids down from being in tears when they arrive at the hospital to get ready to face their surgery.

“The (mentors) helped me through stuff, and they supported me,” Keegan recalled. “So I wanted to give back to kids like that too.

“I make them less nervous, and I make them laugh.”

“It just adds so much more when (the mentors) can say, ‘I have been there and look at me now,’” Jullie added.

And where Keegan is now is nothing short of miraculous. He is small for his age. He can’t play sports. He is enrolled at Waipahu High School, but receives his schooling at home or in the hospital. He still has to undergo regular medical procedures. But other than that, Keegan is a normal kid, his parents said.

Like most teens, he looks forward to hanging out with his friends (especially when that means going to Camp Taylor each year (a camp specifically for kids with heart disease) and thinks about what he wants to do when he grows up. He has entertained ideas about becoming a doctor, or perhaps a photographer. But his latest interest is architecture.

In conjunction with his school curriculum, Keegan is drafting and designing building plans for a new project that he calls Keegan’s Heart House. The house, which would be comprised of eight rooms that hold up to seven people each, would provide accommodations for patients with heart conditions and their families who are visiting Oahu for medical care. He is aiming to have a completed draft of the building by the time he graduates.

Unlike other, similar homes, his design takes extended families into consideration. Other facilities may have only space for the child and one parent, but the Heart House has space to accommodate other relatives or friends who want to help the patient. Plus, a hospital bed in the room would be specifically constructed for heart surgery patients.

Keegan was inspired to create Heart House after seeing what many of his hospital friends were going through. If they had to fly in from a neighbor island, they often had nowhere to go while they waited for their appointment.

“He’s having the house here available so that they can kick back, relax, sleep, rest, shower and let the kids play,” Jay said.

The Passos like to be together through all of Keegan’s procedures, so they know the importance of a venue like this to families. (Kaitlin, 10, has been to all of Keegan’s doctor appointments.)

“We have all learned that family and friends support the healing,” Jullie said. “If you heal the soul, you can heal the body faster.”

With Keegan as this year’s Champion, the whole family hopes to help others who face similar situations.

“It is so exciting because for a full year, we can be in a position to actually help other kids more,” Julie said. “There are kids like this everywhere who need help.”

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