What do a 3-year-old Ocala boy and Gators basketball stars Will Yeguete and Patric Young have in common?
Skittles, super-strength and a road to recovery.
Yeguete, a forward on the Gators’ roster, and teammate Young, a center, spent just a few moments visiting sick children at UF Health Shands Hospital in January. Most children were intimidated by Yeguete and Young’s respective 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-9 statures. Until Kaedyn Ballew came along, Yeguete didn’t feel a serious connection with any patient.
But Amber Clements wouldn’t miss an opportunity. She waved the players over and asked if they met her nephew. Kaedyn’s room wasn’t on their schedule, but Yeguete and Young made a detour anyway.
Kaedyn was diagnosed with infantile leukemia at 10 months old. He was just beginning a five-month stay at Shands after he relapsed on New Years Day 2013. Around the same time of Ballew’s permanent hospital stay, Yeguete underwent knee surgery and Young had ankle surgery. The players, although towering over their new friend, could relate.
Their visit turned into a 90-minute conversation. They listened to stories of what Kaedyn did that day, his girlfriend and how his muscles were bigger than Yeguete’s and Young’s.
Yeguete would regularly text Kaedyn’s mother, Shelsie Ballew, and Clements for updates on Kaedyn. He would visit the hospital and bring Kaedyn Skittles, his favorite candy. He wrote Kaedyn’s name on his shoes at the 2013 NCAA tournament, sparking media attention.
“He definitely touched my heart when I first met him,” Yeguete said. “He’s a really special kid, and I hope the whole world can know about it.”
In March, Kaedyn received a successful bone marrow transplant. He is currently in remission. Yeguete was so moved by Kaedyn, he began talking to his friend Gene Gamble, a producer for the E! show “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” for ideas on how to share Kaedyn’s story. Gamble had the answer: a documentary.
A Kickstarter campaign was created to raise money for “Kaedyn the Superhero,” a documentary paralleling the recovery stories of Kaedyn, Yeguete and Young.
“He calls Pat and Will his superheroes,” Gamble said.
Combined with footage of Kaedyn battling cancer, the documentary would portray his transition back home alongside Yeguete and Young, concluding with Kaedyn attending his first Gators basketball game. As of Thursday, the campaign raised about $3,800 since starting Aug. 14. If the goal of $15,732 isn’t reached by Sept. 14 at 7 p.m., all donations will be returned back to the donors. After production would wrap up around the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Gamble would pitch the documentary to TV networks such as ESPN.
Shelsie Ballew hopes to donate money from the documentary for transplant housing at Shands for young patients and their families.
“Meeting them has really changed Kaedyn’s life,” she said. “When doctors and nurses come in, Kaedyn doesn’t talk to them. But the guys he could trust. They’re more fun.”
A version of this story ran on page 5 on 8/30/2013 under the headline "Gator basketball players involved in Kickstarter campaign for Ocala boy"