When he held up his honorary bid card to UF Pi Kappa Alpha, three-year-old Declan Patrick smiled from ear to ear.
Declan, who’s a patient at UF Health Shands Hospital, wore an orange and blue Gator visor too big for his head and a large garnet PIKE polo shirt over his clothes when he became the fraternity's newest member Feb. 12. That night, Declan fell asleep in his fraternity polo, his mother, Kathy Patrick, said.
While Declan has many symptoms commonly associated with cerebral palsy, his doctors still need more evidence to confirm a proper diagnosis, Patrick said.
Alec Blanco, a UF industrial engineering junior and fraternity brother, said he heard about Declan’s story from his girlfriend, Emily Bateh, a UF speech therapy sophomore. She had met the Patrick family through Dance Marathon.
Bateh, 19, showed Blanco, 21, pictures and videos of Declan playing football with braces strapped to his legs and a beaming smile on his face. Blanco said the toddler reminded him of himself as a kid, and he wanted Declan to have more of a normal childhood.
After deciding he wanted to make Declan an honorary fraternity brother, Blanco reached out to Declan’s mom.
“My mouth hit the floor. I never imagined something like that would happen,” Patrick said. “I was just awestruck. It was an amazing feeling.”
Now the toddler has a home away from home in between his weekly visits to the hospital. His family drives an hour and a half from Wildwood to Gainesville three times a week for his doctor appointments at Shands, Patrick said. His mother said commuting to Shands and Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando put 50,000 miles on their car.
The group celebrated Declan’s bid by surprising him with a new basketball and football signed by all of the fraternity brothers. Patrick watched as her son wasted no time grabbing the basketball to play catch outside with his new friends.
At the bidding celebration, Patrick spoke about her son’s medical conditions. Declan was diagnosed with ketotic hypoglycemia, a blood sugar condition, after spending a total of 63 days in hospitals last year, sometimes staying for weeks at a time.
Although Declan suffers from painful leg muscle spasms and wears leg braces to walk, nothing stops his energetic personality, she said.
“They don’t have to make him a part of their lives, but they do it because they have big hearts,” she said. “It’s just overwhelming for a mother. It’s overwhelming.”
Despite the constant doctor appointments, Declan faces life with an upbeat personality and energy to spare, Blanco said. The 3-foot-4-inch sportslover is always ready to dunk a basketball, as long as somebody lifts him up to the hoop first.
Evan Begley, a UF business administration freshman, said, although Declan was shy at first, he quickly warmed up.
“As soon as he saw how excited we were for him, he just really brightened up,” the 18-year-old said. “When he saw that we all wanted to play catch with him and be friends with him, I think that really made his day.”