Former two-time cruiserweight world titleholder Steve Cunningham has been in a lot of tough fights in his career, but he is the first to say those fights were nothing compared to what his nine-year-old daughter Kennedy has been going through for her entire life.
Kennedy was born with a heart defect -- hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which basically means that part of the left side of her heart did not completely develop -- and would eventually need a heart transplant. After Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh put her on its transplant list in June, a heart became available and Dr. Victor Morell performed surgery early Friday, the family announced.
"We are so happy to share that early [Friday] morning our daughter Kennedy received the gift of life," Cunningham and his wife, Livvy, said in a statement. "She received her new heart and is doing very well. This day is so very special to us and the promise of a better and longer life for our daughter trumps any victory boxing could ever give us. This is the ultimate championship right here.
"We would like to thank everyone for their continued prayers and support. And most importantly we send our sincere condolences to the donor family that through their extraordinary selflessness made this day possible for our daughter. We are forever grateful."
Besides issuing their statement, the Cunninghams made a number of posts to social media, including photos and videos, detailing what was happening before and after the 3 a.m. surgery.
The Cunninghams said that Kennedy's pre-surgery comment to them was, "When the clock says it's about to be fight time, you need to pack up and go. It's about to be fight time right now."
Kennedy's story first drew attention in April, when Steve Cunningham survived two knockdowns by Amir Mansour to rally to win a 10-round decision in an action-packed heavyweight fight on national television.
Cunningham said that one of the key reasons he was continuing to box was so he could earn money to help pay for the mounting medical costs of Kennedy's treatment. She was ringside for the fight and television cameras caught her bright smile when her father was announced as the winner, and she was by his side during the post-fight television interview.
Kennedy had her first open heart surgery when she was 2 days old, another one six months later and spent the first year of her life in the hospital. But just before Cunningham fought Mansour, the family received crushing news that she was not a candidate for a heart transplant.
The family went for a second opinion at the Pittsburgh hospital, which ran tests on Kennedy and said that she was indeed a transplant candidate.
So while Steve and sons Cruz and Steve Jr. stayed behind at their home in Philadelphia, Kennedy and Livvy moved to Pittsburgh in order to be close to the hospital to continue with Kennedy's care and also to be close by when they hopefully would get the call that a heart had become available.
Steve Cunningham's next fight is likely to be a heavyweight world title eliminator against Vyacheslav "Czar" Glazkov on March 14 in Quebec on the undercard of the light heavyweight title fight between unified titleholder Sergey Kovalev and former champion Jean Pascal.