There are lots of easy ways to make a kid's day. Kyle Scheeler didn't choose one of them.
Scheeler, 22, will run the Twin Cities Marathon on Sunday, dressed in a Twins uniform. He'll do it for a courageous 10-year-old boy from Mahtomedi named Elliott Duffy, with whom he shares a formidable health challenge:
Both are stroke survivors.
Scheeler, a junior at St. Cloud State University, had two strokes, in fact, at age 18, just before starting his senior year of high school. Elliott had a stroke on Christmas night when he was 5.
The two met at a Minneapolis stroke awareness walk in May. Scheeler was drawn to Elliott, who was wearing a "Don't Mess With Me, I'm a Stroke Survivor" T-shirt.
Scheeler introduced himself to Elliott, his parents, Kirk and Anna, and sister, Nina, 8. He learned that Elliott is a big Joe Mauer fan.
Turns out that former Twin Tim Laudner also was at the walk. Scheeler approached him. "Mr. Laudner," he said, "I'd like to do something for this kid."
If Laudner could arrange for Elliott to meet Mauer, Scheeler would run the marathon dressed in a Twins uniform (or a reasonable facsimile thereof). Laudner gave Scheeler some names, and Scheeler made some calls.
"Sports are such a big thing for me," said Scheeler, who was co-captain of his high school cross-country team. "Since Elliott can't play sports like he used to, I thought, 'Maybe I can make his day.' "
Scheeler, the youngest of Roger and Gail Scheeler's three children, grew up in St. Cloud and always was physically active. As umpire for a Little League baseball game in 2007, he got hit in the leg with a foul ball that caused a bruise, then a clot. He woke up the next morning with "a decent headache." As he watched ESPN, the scores became blurry.
His parents were minutes away from leaving for the Twin Cities, his dad already in the car. "Roger," Gail said, rushing out to him, "something's wrong with Kyle." Their son passed out and was rushed to the hospital. The first doctor they saw was convinced he'd had a bad drug reaction.
"My mom said, 'My son doesn't do drugs,' which is kind of a typical mom thing to say," Scheeler recalled, laughing. A family friend suggested they get a second opinion, fast.
Four days later, doctors at the Mayo Clinic diagnosed the strokes. Scheeler was put on blood thinners for about a month. He now has an implanted heart device to close a previously diagnosed hole in his heart.
He began his senior year facing new realities. His right eyelid and mouth drooped slightly. His test scores shifted from As and Bs to Cs, even some Ds. His balance was off, and his running times slowed.
"That was tough," Scheeler said. "But then I'd say, 'Stop complaining.' I'd give myself a good chewing out. Nothing is hindering my life."
He's on the "five-year plan" at St. Cloud State, majoring in sports management. In April, Scheeler ran the Boston Marathon, his first marathon, in 4:24:31. He was invited to run as part of "Tedy's Team," named for Tedy Bruschi, a former New England Patriots linebacker who had a stroke in 2005.
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Five years ago, Elliott, "a big, healthy boy," says Anna, complained of a "really big headache" at his grandmother's house in White Bear Lake.
"I felt like my brain was hurting," Elliott said. "I started to cry. Then I took a nap."
His parents thought he had an ear infection. Kirk carried him into urgent care, unaware that Elliott couldn't walk. But the doctor knew. "Can you stand on both feet?" he asked Elliott. "Can you smile? Can you lift your left arm?"
"Stroke," said Kirk, a video producer at Cargill. "We just sat there. My narrow knowledge of stroke is that it happens to old people."
Pediatric strokes are extremely rare. Only about six in 100,000 children under 15 are afflicted annually, according to the National Stroke Association.
Elliott has made tremendous progress in the past five years, undergoing brain surgery at Children's Hospital Boston and benefitting from physical, occupational, water, speech and strength therapy. "A lot of hard work," said Anna, an early childhood educator.
He remains on anti-seizure medication and takes a baby aspirin every day. He rides an adaptive bike and, last week, ran the mile in school. "All of his teachers tell us that he's figured out ways to do things the way he needs to do them," Anna said.
On Aug. 26, he was just another star-struck kid hanging out at Target Field.
"Hi, Elliott. My name is Joe," Mauer said, approaching him. They hung out, talked a bit. Mauer signed a baseball for his young fan.
"His face was just priceless," Scheeler said of Elliott. "It was awesome."
Really awesome, Kirk said, is Scheeler, who is showing Elliott how to live fully after a stroke. "I can't say enough about him," Kirk said. "He's genuine, in tune with Elliott. He understands what's going on.
"Our family will be cheering for him on Sunday."
Gail Rosenblum • 612-673-7350 firstname.lastname@example.org