Brady Zgonina lived only three years.
By the book, he probably shouldn't have lived a moment.
"Brady started his life almost two months premature with Down syndrome, five complex congenital heart defects and three major stomach defects, all resulting in a whirlwind of events consisting of six major surgeries, numerous procedures and many months in the hospital," his mother, Julie, wrote of the beginnings of her second son's life.
Yet when Brady died last week following complications from his ninth surgery, he had energetically and joyfully taught important lessons of life to everyone who knew him, including his grandparents on Hilton Head Island.
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"He changed all of us," said Julie's mother, Sylvia Kurtz of Sea Pines. "He made us accept the differences in people. Brady was strong, and we all gained strength from him. He taught us that lesson of strength and to just keep going."
A story in Brady's hometown newspaper, the Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., said that his loss is crushing. Writer Mark Leach tackles head-on the common thoughts in society that a little boy like Brady is nothing but a burden, and his passing is for the best.
"Brady's life had a purpose, just like each of our lives do," wrote Leach, a board member of Down Syndrome of Louisville. He met Brady's father, Joe, at a meeting of dads of children with Down syndrome.
"In his short time, he provided perspective to those who thought they deserved sympathy because of a broken finger or a stressful day at the office. His tenacity was an inspiration to those who see challenges and fold instead of taking them head-on. And the love of his family was an example of pure, unconditional love that they showed Brady and Brady showed them. It was the kind of love we all wish we could experience sometime in this life."
Sylvia and Arthur Kurtz, islanders for 15 years, want Brady's life to help others see these benefits of Down syndrome. October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and they want the community to support organizations that help Down syndrome families.
Julie has shared her journey in clear honesty through Facebook and a blog she calls "The Gift."
In her eulogy, Julie used humor and a mother's passion to tell how wrong we are to look at a child like hers and say he is challenged, delayed, special needs or medically fragile.
Instead, she said, "I would call him strong, determined, bright and a typical boy."
She closed by speaking directly to "our little rock star ... our amazing little angel": "Thank you for helping us, and know that we will do our best to be strong, for you deserve from us to administer the kind of strength that you continually showed us each and every day of your life."