Arizona athletes

Wright III, Dawkins among Arizona Wildcats contingent that lifts spirit of boy facing heart surgery


Family Weekend at the University of Arizona meant the Todd Family of Prescott would take a trip to Tucson to visit their sophomore Wildcat. Chris and Kandee Todd made the four-hour trip with their sons Cutter and Crew to visit their daughter Kennedi, a biology major with an interest in pre-med and microbiology.

Cutter, Kennedi, Kandee and Crew Todd (front) via Todd Family picture

Kandee, a 1995 graduate from the University of Arizona Pharmacy College, has made sure to raise the next generation of Todds as true cardinal-and-navy-bleeding Wildcats. The Todds make sure to include the term “future Wildcat,” with both of the boys’ names. Cutter Todd, a 16-year-old future Wildcat, is a sophomore at Prescott High School. Future Wildcat Crew Todd, 12, is in seventh grade at Basis Prescott.

Not only did she have her mother’s influence throughout her Wildcat upbringing, Kennedi, 19, fell in love with the UA in fourth grade with further influence from her teacher, also a Wildcat fan. The neighboring teacher of Kennedi’s fourth grade class was a fan of the school formally known as Tempe Normal.

Kennedi and her fourth grade teacher engaged in a fun rivalry with that educator next door.

The youngest, Crew, has his own on-going rivalry at school with his seventh grade English teacher. Mrs. Erin Wilkinson is a die-hard Sun Devil. Crew is not shy at all about ruffling the ASU fan’s feathers.

Despite the teasing, Mrs. Wilkinson won’t hesitate to compliment Crew as a scholar.

“Crew’s a good student,” she said. “Diligent in turning work in and making up things he’s missed. He works hard and asks a lot of questions.”

Crew had a reason why he needed to make up so many of the missed assignments.

Wilkinson is a seasoned educator of 10 years. Because of her experience educating young minds, she noticed something was going on with Crew. Like like all good educators, she has developed ways of reading, communicating and connecting with children.

Mrs. Wilkinson was able to get Crew to open up without probing or being invasive.

“I had commented to him that he was missing a lot of school and maybe we should get him some Vitamin C,” Wilkinson recalled.

“No, I have had a lot of doctor appointments,” Crew replied.

Wilkinson continued by asking Crew why he needed to visit the doctor so often. Crew told her his condition required surgery on his heart.

Not long after Crew told his teachers he was facing surgery, his mother sent an e-mail to all of his teachers giving them the specifics of Crew’s condition. She informed them that he expected to miss an extensive amount of time from school and would return to class in January.

Joe and Erin Wilkinson with their children. Photo via Joe Wilkinson

Mrs. Wilkinson, one of Crew’s favorite teachers, began to think of a gift that he attempted to give her and forced her to live with. Crew returned from his Family Weekend visit in Tucson to Prescott bearing that gift.

“I knew Mrs. Wilkinson is an ASU fan and I was recently at the UofA and got a pen that said ‘U of A’,” Crew said before Mrs. Wilkinson injected: “I wouldn’t touch the pen.”

“Crew asked if that meant I wouldn’t accept it,” she recalled. “I told Crew, ‘I didn’t say that. Just that I wouldn’t touch it.’ So Crew proceeded to tape it to my white board and it stayed there for about two months. I had to protect that pen from just about every student who came in my classroom.”

Crew knew what his teacher’s reaction to the gift would be.

“I couldn’t wait to tape it to the board when I got back to school,” he said. “It stayed there forever and was a legacy.”

He finished the rivalry tale by saying, “I think the U of A-ASU rivalry is not a serious thing but a fun thing and that makes it more fun to watch them compete.”

It was this memory that Wilkinson shared with her husband Joe Wilkinson, an ASU alumnus and giant Sun Devil fan. The news of Crew facing surgery compelled the Wilkinsons to pray.

Crew being such a passionate Arizona fan gave Joe an idea. Setting the rivalry aside, Joe, a member of the military, contacted a former enlisted colleague of his, a rabid Wildcat fan, who is a writer for AllSportsTucson.com.

“How cool would it be to have something from UofA by…idk…a player or coach, wishing him well?” Joe asked in a direct tweet.

The Wilkinsons were inspired to do what they could to bolster Crew’s strength and provide a bit of a silver lining for what he was going through.

AllSportsTucson.com placed a few phone calls and sent messages to see what kind of moral support we could come up with for Crew. After informing a few contacts of Crew’s condition, we received a great response.

Scooby Wright and his family agreed to reach out to Crew to see what they could do to ease his anxiety and nerves.

Brandon Dawkins and a few of his teammates decided they should do something for Crew as well. The Wildcats’ Cheer and Mascot program organized a little something to wish Crew a speedy recovery and our own Anthony Gimino and Steve Rivera made sure Prescott’s most die-hard Wildcat fan had a signed copy of their book “100 Things Arizona Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”.

The well wishes came just in time. Leading up to the day of his procedure, Crew he was feeling “really scared and nervous.”

Crew was born with a relatively common condition known as Pectus Excavatum, also known as funnel chest. It is more common in boys than girls. In most cases, people with the condition can live a normal life and usually don’t receive much more treatment than physical therapy. In fact, Crew had embraced his condition growing up and was proud of the uniqueness it gave him.

He had a normal childhood and played sports — soccer, baseball, football and golf, to name a few. Kandee said Crew referred to his sunken chest as his “drink holder.”

Crew’s case however began showing such signs of severity that Dr. David Notrica, of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, determined surgery at his young age would be the most prudent avenue to pursue. He was experiencing a drastic loss of endurance during exercise or even while simply at rest. Crew felt tightening and pain in his chest.

“It is considered by insurance companies as a cosmetic procedure, unless there are certain clinical guidelines met,” Kandee said. “In Crew’s case, he had what was referred to as a severe case of pectus in which the sternum was flattening the right ventricle and causing sinus arrhythmia.

“We chose to do the surgery now rather than later, due to the amount of correction needed to pull his sternum forward, the doctor preferred to do it when (Crew’s) bones were not rigid yet.”

Crew grew silent and anxious about his condition during his appointment. He did not want to talk about it. He told his parents, “Dad and Mom, I do not want to have the surgery no matter what.”

It was during that appointment that Crew learned of the severity of his condition and that in the weeks to follow he would have to undergo metal allergy tests, MRIs and stress tests. It was what caused him to take so much time away from school and Mrs. Wilkinson’s class.

The night before the procedure, the Todd family ate dinner in downtown Phoenix when Kandee decided to unveil a surprise she was saving for the next morning before the surgery.

Jamie Bernier, Director of U of A Mascot and Cheer, sent a video of the entire Wildcat cheer squad and Wilbur the Wildcat wishing the future Wildcat well.

“An ear to ear smile was the best way to describe this encounter,” Kandee said. “I was originally saving that video for the day of the surgery to take his mind off some of his anxiety, but he was so anxious the night before, we played the video for him at dinner.

“It was actually a life-saver to have that video ready. I went from answering surgery questions to answering questions on how that video was sent to him.”

Earlier that week, Phil Wright Sr. — Scooby’s dad — contacted the Todds to coordinate a good time to have his son get in touch with Crew. The day before surgery, Scooby placed a call to Crew, and in the process, earned a life-long fan. Since that conversation, Scooby has signed with the Arizona Cardinals.

Crew recalled the conversation: “Awwwww!!! Nice to hear the name Cardinals! I didn’t know him before, but now he is my favorite football player. I thought the Cleveland Browns would be my favorite team even though I heard they were 0-12, because I wanted to root for Scooby. I’m happy he is with the Cardinals, because they’re my state team and now it gives me more reason to support him. I want to see the Cardinals play. It was like being on Cloud 9. I was jumping up and down and excited. I told him, ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to an NFL player!’ He made me calm down about my surgery because he explained his prior (knee) surgery. He is extremely nice. He said that if I ever felt down or couldn’t sleep, I could just text him any time.”

The day before, Crew received a video from Arizona football players Brandon Dawkins, Nick Wilson, Trevor Wood and Layth Friekh sending a personal message of well wishes on behalf of the program.

Dawkins was immediately interested in learning how he could help after learning of Crew’s story. He sent an autographed football with Kennedi, who joined the rest of the Todd family the day after the surgery.

“Brandon contacted me directly via text and offered to get together with Crew and some of the U of A teammates,” Kandee said. “We were trying to plan to arrange to meet in Phoenix before or after his surgery but with U of A finals, that was challenging.”

Crew went through the Nuss Procedure, which typically lasts two hours (shown in video below). For a procedure that is considered to be non-invasive, it’s pretty intense and the recovery is one of the most painful to go through.

The staff at Phoenix Children’s Hospital made sure Crew had a pleasant five-day stay, filled with plenty of milestone challenges (lapse around the nurses’ station, distances walked, etc.) that stimulated his competitive nature and activities like the “kid zone” play area.

A holiday party was scheduled. Being with therapy dogs Reggie and Rooney highlighted his stay. It uplifted him from the sluggish feeling he got from pain killers.

To this day, the pain persists, even though he’s at home again in Prescott.

Crew has plenty of love and support in his corner and is able to receive advice from a pro athlete in Scooby who has been through his fair share of recovery and physical therapy.

In three months, Crew is expected to resume normal activity and play sports. He plans on trying out for the golf team in the spring. In three years, the bars that were installed to support his breast plate from collapsing, will be removed.

When asked what he would tell other kids who are scared or nervous about having surgery or being in the hospital, Crew said, “It’s OK to cry before surgery and be nervous. Just know you will be in great hands with very experienced doctors.”

Crew Todd the day after surgery. Photo: Todd Family

AllSportsTucson.com wants to thank Scooby Wright III and his famiiy, Brandon Dawkins, Nick Wilson, Trevor Wood, Layth Friekh, Lute Olson and The Jim Click Hall of Champions for their wonderful support. To the Todd Family, thank you for sharing your story with us and allowing us into your lives during a hectic time. We wish Crew a speedy and full recovery. Bear Down!

FOLLOW JOSE ROMAN JR. ON TWITTER!

Born a Wildcat fan, lifetime fanhood was solidified when he was able to meet Tedy Bruschi, Sean Harris, Brandon Sanders, Chuck Levy and Ontiwaun Carter as a sixth grader. Having served 10 years in the armed forces and having been deployed all over the world, he’s still managed to make it to every Arizona home football game, bowl game and at least one away game for the last 12 years. Now combining his love of writing with his love of all things sports, Jose is proud and honored to join AllSportsTucson.com as a writer.

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