When heavyweight Steve Cunningham faced Amir Mansour and defeated him by 10-round decision -- after getting knocked down twice in the fifth round -- in a terrific slugfest in April, the former cruiserweight titlist made no secret about the reason he continues to fight.
His family is dealing with the mounting medical bills for his 8-year-old daughter, Kennedy, who has a serious heart ailment.
The little girl was ringside for the fight and had a big smile on her face when Cunningham was announced the winner. But given her grave condition, smiles have been hard to come by.
She needs a heart transplant to give her a chance to survive a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the left side of her heart has not completely developed.
Around the time of Cunningham’s fight with Mansour, the family received word that Kennedy, who had open heart surgery when she was 2 days old, another one six months later and spent the first year of her life in the hospital, was not a candidate for a heart transplant.
Despite numerous medical issues, she is closing in on her ninth birthday, a feat in itself. Doctors in her hometown of Philadelphia told Cunningham and his wife, Livvy, that the best they could do was give Kennedy medication to help her heart function, but that eventually it would give out and she would die.
“I was so completely heartbroken the day her doctor sat me down and gave me the news," Livvy Cunningham said. “My world collapsed. I cried for three days straight while I tried to wrap my head around the news and tried to figure out how to live without the hope of a beautiful future for our beautiful daughter. Tried to picture our lives without her. I just couldn't, it was impossible."
At that point, the Cunninghams sought a second opinion. Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh agreed to evaluate her and last month accepted her into its program and put her on the list for a transplant.
"I'll never forget the day I got the call from my wife with the news (that she wasn’t a transplant candidate),” Cunningham said. “I broke down like never before. I lost it. I was in the middle of my training camp for a must-win fight. People close to me told me I should pull out of the fight, that it was too much for me.
“But I knew that I had to fight for Kennedy. She has been through so many battles in her life and has never once given up and I was not going to let her see her father quit. I turned my sadness and fear into determination and on fight night, I had to dig deep. But it was that determination that got me up off the canvas twice to win. We will never give up on Kennedy and are so blessed and excited that the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has agreed to take her on and list her.”
The Cunninghams will take Kennedy to the hospital in Pittsburgh one or two times a month for checkups while they await a call telling them that there is an available heart. If that call comes, they’ll have four hours to get her to the hospital.
The bills are a hardship for the Cunninghams and they have set up a fund to help them cover the costs of her medical care. So far they have raised a little more than $7,000 of what they hope will be $25,000. To donate, you can go to http://www.heartbyfaith.com/.