By Peyton Wesner
It is a partly cloudy day, and the sounds of baseballs popping in leather gloves and childhood laughter fill the Chaires-Capitola Little League fields in Tallahassee, Fla.
As players prepare for their next game, Grayson Padgett stands in his team’s dugout. Sunlight shines on the 10-year-old’s face as he bounces a mud-stained baseball off his bicep. The ball springs into the air, rotating gracefully before landing in his right hand.
Many see Grayson as a young boy following his passions and enjoying days filled with school, friends and baseball. But, his story is much more complex.
At 22 weeks pregnant, Samantha Padgett, Grayson’s mother, visited a doctor in Tallahassee. The doctor discovered Grayson would be born with a heart condition, which led the Padgett family to UF Health.
Physicians at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center confirmed Grayson’s diagnosis – transposition of the great arteries, a condition where the two main arteries leaving the heart are reversed. The condition meant Grayson would need open-heart surgery soon after birth.
“He was born, and I got to kiss him,” Samantha said. “Then the first person that took him and treated him was Dr. Fudge.”
Curt Fudge, M.D., MHS, director of the congenital cardiac catheterization program, was the first UF Health physician to care for Grayson. Jeremy Archer, M.D., M.S., FAAP, medical director of congenital heart center clinics, and Mark Bleiweis, M.D., director of the UF Health Congenital Heart Center, also played a role in treatment. In fact, Bleiweis performed the surgery on Grayson’s heart.
The relationship between the Padgett family and the UF Health Congenital Heart Center staff remains strong to this day. Even though Grayson has had no complications since recovering from surgery, he sees Fudge for check-ups every two years. All check-ups confirm that Grayson is a thriving fourth grader.
“I’ve played baseball since second grade,” said Grayson, who pitches and plays first base. “I also like to hang out with my friends.”
Samantha enjoys peace of mind thanks to the role UF Health has played in Grayson’s healthy life.
“He wrestles with his sister, Bradley, and we do so many things together. We don’t give it a second thought,” Samantha said. “We don’t worry about what his future looks like.
“He’s a normal kid and that’s what UF Health did for us. I don’t think you can really put enough words to that.”
Grayson and his family enjoy frequent trips to Gainesville. His mother and father, Ryan, both studied at the University of Florida, and Grayson calls the Swamp his second home on Saturdays in the fall.
It may just be a matter of time before Grayson takes the mound while wearing orange and blue for Gators baseball.
“Maybe,” said Grayson with a shy smile. “One day.”
Craig and Dianne Hunter, Grayson’s grandparents, helped establish the Congenital Heart Center Excellence Endowment at UF Health. The fund addresses the greatest needs at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center and exists to help patients like Grayson in the future. Samantha said her family’s generosity stems from UF Health not only supporting her son at birth but today and tomorrow as well.
“We’re grateful to be able to do that,” Samantha said. “Everybody that goes through this experience should have the comfort of knowing they’re getting the very best care for their child.
“It will continue to provide that innovation and that hope to families. It’s very exciting and very humbling for us.”