The small town with a big heart: The Gavin Bennett story

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“We’re excited to bring you a story about a young boy’s spirit and energetic personality, along with the love of his mom, Echo, and the community of Presho, South Dakota. All of it keeps him one step ahead of a disease that he’s had since he was a little boy. You’re going to meet Gavin Bennett,” said KELOLAND On the Road Host, Mike Huether.

“You were talking with Tuti and all of the sudden I walk in and it was almost like you were the mayor of Presho. You were so warm and welcoming.  Where do you get that inner strength?”, recalled Mike Huether. “I am so happy all of the time,” replied Gavin Bennett. “You caught me off guard in such a wonderful way, Gavin,” said Huether. 

Gavin Bennett, the confident 10-year-old ambassador of Presho, South Dakota, shared his warmth with me from the moment I entered Hutch’s Café. He also shared his story. 

Gavin was stricken with bacterial meningitis when he was just 6-months-old. “When we got to Chamberlain’s ER, they knew he was critical and they basically told us he wouldn’t survive the helicopter ride to Sioux Falls.  And so, when we made it to Sioux Falls, he was given a 10% chance to survive after that,” recalled Gavin’s mom, Echo Bennett. 
 
Gavin’s powerful mom, Echo, was just 23-years-old, almost a child herself, when her beautiful son was diagnosed with blood poisoning from this debilitating and potentially deadly disease. “I was a very young mother to begin with and then when he got sick, life kind of flipped itself on its head. Long story short, he spent 63 days initially in the hospital. He had 18 surgeries during those 63 days,” Echo Bennet said. “Oh my gosh,” replied Huether. “He went through quite a bit in that first couple of months.  We were able to come back to Presho here. And for the first six months he got out of the hospital, we were traveling back and forth to Cincinnati by airplane every two weeks,” said Echo Bennett. 

The doctors told Echo there was a 90% chance that Gavin would lose his leg… if he survived. Yet, her mother’s intuition said, “No.” Not her miracle son. “When we got to Cincinnati, to the Shriners, and they did his major debridement, they took off like 80% of the bad tissues and they went in and looked at the leg and said, ‘We don’t need to amputate. It didn’t go clear down to the bone.’  I broke down because I was like, ‘Okay, I shouldn’t have fought against this, but I did and we did the right thing’,” said Echo Bennett.

Yet this dynamic duo of mother and son had many more challenges to face. “I think it is kind of bred into both of us after he survived as a family and as a person.  I was just very happy and excited for his future and no amputations and even though I knew he would have like a lot of surgeries and a lot of things coming down the line, I just felt so blessed, said Echo Bennett. Bring it on, says Gavin. “We get the things that we need to get done. I’m down,” said Gavin Bennett. “You mean you’re down, you’re ready for the next challenge? Bring it on?,” asked Mike Huether. “Uh, huh,” agreed Gavin Bennett.

These two have not done it alone.  Family, especially Gavin’s dad, Curt, and the supportive town of Presho, have made a wonderful difference. “Presho is amazing. They have rallied around us. When he first got sick, the whole community came to his benefit,” said Echo Bennett. “Our plan is to stay here. Our plan is to let Gavin continue his education with his peers that know and trust him and that he knows and trusts. “They just love him and they treat him accordingly,” Echo Bennett said. “Their care is real and genuine,” said Huether. “Exactly,” answered Echo Bennett.

Both of them can’t say enough good things about Gavin’s school. “It makes my heart happy that he has such a stable, secure group at school. That he can rely on those kids to be good to him, and to not bully him, to not put him down, to help him if he drops something, or needs assistance somewhere,” said Echo Bennett. Got any lessons for us, Gavin? “Be really nice to people. Don’t be mean to others and always pay attention in school (laughter),” Gavin Bennett said.

This small ray of sunshine, did cloud over a bit when we talked about some limits he has playing sports. “Because of the skin grafts that are on me.  Like when it is a sunny day outside and I don’t have sunscreen on, it will burn kind of. (deep breath),” said Gavin Bennett. 
He shed a tear when I asked him to talk about his dear mom. I did, too. “She is really nice,” said Gavin Bennett.  “She is. She has been with you on this journey. Does she ever leave your side? No?,” asked Mike Huether. “No,” agreed Gavin Bennett.

This family’s future is bright.  Their attitudes won’t allow any less. “He is not pitying himself. He is not depressed. He is not in any sort of bad moods about his life or anything,” Echo Bennett said. “Yours either,” said Huether. “Exactly.  And we shouldn’t be, because he survived and he is thriving, and that’s what really matters. He’s amazing,” answered Echo Bennett. 

We’ll close with some final thoughts from the future mayor of Presho. “I just like being the friendliest guy in town,” said Gavin Bennett. “I think you…my gut says you are the friendliest guy in town.  And it is a pleasure to meet you, Gavin Bennett,” said Huether. “Cut! (Laughter),” said Gavin Bennett. “Cut.  Did you get the cut?,” Huether laughed.

Gavin’s journey isn’t over. He is just back from another checkup at Shriner’s Hospital in Cincinnati where another surgery was scheduled for some cosmetic work on his mouth. If you ever visit Shriner’s Hospital there, be sure and look for the giant poster that celebrates Gavin’s story and this unforgettable ray of sunshine.

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