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David Koning: With only half a heart, he does nothing half-heartedly 

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

When someone introduces himself with, “I am the only kid in the world that has a half of heart that is over the age of 31. I was dead for six minutes and came back to life four times,” it gets your attention. That’s David Koning’s opening line when he contacts people to make things happen and tell his story. And evidently, it gets everyone’s attention. 

As a result of his countless telephone calls, he’s appeared on Fox News, Good Day LA, The Today Show, and ESPN, to name only a few, and has been interviewed for every newspaper in Orange County. Contrary to what one might expect, he doesn’t get nervous. “I crave it,” he says. After 30 calls to Family Feud, he finally got his family on the television show. No obstacle is insurmountable, it seems.

Thirty-one-year-old Koning may have been born with only half a heart, but he does nothing halfway. Without exception, everyone at Glennwood Housing, an independent living facility serving special needs adults 18 through 59, where he’s lived for the past five months, agrees on his outgoing, upbeat personality, humor, and his ability to connect with people. And, most importantly, to get what he wants. Doggedly persistent, in his mind, nothing is unattainable.

The fact that he’s even here is a stunning example of turning the impossible into the possible.

Facing the impossible 

 David was born prematurely with hypoplastic left-heart syndrome, which meant he was missing the left ventricle. He was not expected to survive. His parents Chris and Pam, already with a three- and five-year-old at home, were given a short list of options: let him die, try experimental heart surgery or wait for a transplant. 

His mother Pam says, “We wanted to do everything possible, with no regrets.”

When David was one week old, they took him to Philadelphia for the experimental heart surgery. He spent several months in the hospital (his mother at his side) and subsequent surgeries followed. During the third surgery, when he was less than two years old, he suffered a cardiac arrest and was without oxygen for six minutes. 

Pam says, “Only a very small percentage of children survive cardiac arrest.” As a result, he developed cerebral palsy and seizures.

Given his time in the hospital, one wonders how he developed his amazing verbal skills. Pam says, “The hospital is where he learned to communicate. He spent months there, and the staff and doctors would come by and talk to him.”

LLP David Koning with parents

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David with his parents, Pam and Chris

Home schooled for five years, when his parents moved the family from San Jose to Laguna, David started Thurston Middle School. In 2007, he graduated from Laguna Beach High School with a diploma, not with a certificate of completion. He was mainstreamed during his school career, and not only was the 2007-2008 yearbook dedicated to him, he marched down the aisle at graduation right behind the valedictorian.

His mother gives the highest praise to the school and the principal at LBHS at the time, Nancy Blade, who not only stepped in to make sure he received a diploma and not just a certificate of completion, but tutored him in algebra. During his time at LBHS, he was busy as the team manager for both boys and girls volleyball, and could often be found having lunch surrounded by volleyball players.

Why Glennwood, why now?

At the beginning of this year, David decided he wanted to move out of his parents’ home. “I wanted some independence away from Mom and Dad.”

“We chose Glennwood because it’s a smaller group home. It’s a beautiful property with a great atmosphere and staff, and it’s near our home,” says Pam. “Caring permeates this town. I’m so thankful he’s in Laguna.”

Glennwood’s Chief Operating Officer, Faith Manners says, “David has a fantastic ability to connect with people in the community, and if Glennwood ever gets a news channel of our own, he would certainly have the skills to deliver as an on-air anchor for us! I think his confidence and quick wit have served him very well in his life, and he certainly has a tenacity that is impressive to many of us that know and love him. 

David grew up locally and so he has a real connection here in Laguna and in Orange County in general. We welcome his energy and enthusiasm and we are really grateful that he has joined our community at Glennwood House.”

Doesn’t take no for an answer

“A phone in my hand is a dangerous weapon,” says Koning, who spends hours on the phone each day getting things done – talking to the Mayor of Anaheim about the Ducks, contacting heads of corporations about what they’re doing to help the disabled, matching corporations with disabled organizations, and currently, persuading local businesses to donate items for the silent auction for Glennwood’s upcoming fundraising event. 

LLP David Koning looking down

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David makes the impossible, possible

“I don’t take no for an answer,” he says.

And that philosophy has paid off. His tenaciousness resulted in meeting Dr. Phil (“I know a lot of people in the TV world,” David says) and several NBA players, including Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal. In 2008, David started Changing Children’s Lives, an outreach for disabled and troubled youths, which connects sports teams with charities to provide tickets to sporting events. The concept developed during a business trip with his dad to New York, when he called the Mets, and got tickets to a game for the Boy and Girls Club. 

Zest for communication

His father Chris admits, “David has a zest for communication.” And not just the goal oriented kind. He has a knack for drawing out the other Glennwood residents as well and has been put in a leadership role. His verbal skills must be instinctive, because Pam says that as they traveled all over the world, he would make friends with cruise crewmembers. He likes traveling, “Once you get used to it, it’s fun,” he says.

He also has a zest for writing. David says, “I am writing seven books right now, and I have finished one of them. It’s a children’s book about a disability dog.”

Besides his love of writing and talking on the telephone, David loves basketball, the Lakers and Warriors (his dad is a big basketball fan), and hockey, especially the Ducks. Through phone contact, he has gotten to know the Anaheim Mayor, and he gives David tickets and use of the Mayor’s Suite for games.

 His interest in basketball started early. Pam says, “When David was a toddler in the hospital (he didn’t walk until the age of four), they put him in with blind kids to play basketball (the nets had beepers), and he would steal the basketball.” 

Basketball and good friends

Now David shares his love of basketball with one of his close friends. A student at Regis University in Denver, Chandler White will be soon be transferring to Chapman College in Orange. He met David through their mothers, and Chandler and David frequently play basketball together. 

Chandler says, “He’s a great friend, entertaining and energetic. I’ve never seen him down, he is always upbeat and easy to be around. I can always count on him to brighten my day.” 

Of course, David is hoping that Chandler will make it to the NBA. 

Chandler adds, “David is very smart and super encouraging. He’s my biggest supporter and always in my corner.”

When he can, Chandler reciprocates by watching David play on the Special Olympics Basketball Team, The Irvine Eagles, where’s he known to have a great three point shot.

Popular with Glennwood residents and staff

During our conversation, Glennwood staff members drift in and out, offering comments: With 45 residents and 20 staff members (some who are around David’s age), David has plenty of people to share conversations with. And it’s obvious, everyone loves having him around.

LLP David Koning shooting basket

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David nails the shot – all net

“David has been a great addition. He helps plan events and makes things happen, and he’s funny and entertaining,” says staff member Heather McGough.

Molly Minikey, another staff member adds, “He’s a unique person, very outgoing. Whenever you’re feeling low, he cheers you up. He’s very talkative, and can always make you laugh. And he loves Kobe.” 

Staffer Kyle Mayor says, “He likes to hold conversations. I think that’s a good thing.”

And all say he’s a big dancer. To celebrate birthdays, Glennwood throws parties and provides a DJ for dancing. Considering the number of residents (and staff), that’s a lot of parties.

David has garnered the attention of one resident in particular, and apparently, the feeling is mutual. Kelly was a guest of the Konings for a family dinner on Mother’s Day. 

Chandler says, “David called me the night before and said he wanted to sing Kelly a song on Mother’s Day. And he sang the song ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from Titanic. He has a good voice.” 

Konings host residents on Sundays

The Konings also host residents every other Sunday afternoon for ice cream sundaes. All residents are invited, and it’s clear by the greetings and hugs when Pam arrives at Glennwood, that she is considered everyone’s surrogate mother. 

Pam says, “I love these kids. They’re so sweet. They grow on you.”

Resident Spencer Vanduzer, who has two jobs, at Gelson’s and Panera, says, “David’s a great friend. He likes to talk about sports. He’s funny.”

Although Glennwood has a work program and encourages residents to have a job (two in Spencer’s case), David has yet to find one, and is still looking. Instead each day, he visits Harbor House in Laguna Niguel and participates in enrichment programs. 

Franklin Casco, the Jesus Coach from The Holy Spirit Broadcasting Network, who has known David for seven years, sums up what everyone else has said, “David Koning is a great young man, and he’s overcome some serious adversities. He’s inspiring to be around.”

A fighting spirit

Max Trueblood, who is acquainted with David through an exchange four years ago regarding relocating the Clippers to Anaheim, tweets for David and links his story to sports contacts. Max knows first-hand of David’s resolution. “I got 15 calls from him in one day.” 

He continues, “David is very persistent, but what people need to understand is that if he didn’t have this instinct, maybe he wouldn’t have survived. The fighting spirit kept him alive.”

It’s clear that although David has survived unfathomable difficulties, he’s also experienced many victories. He has the support of wonderful parents, his brother Michael and sister Michelle, and he has no lack of good friends, inside and outside of Glennwood. Through his diligence, he’s made incredible contacts and provided hope and assistance to those with disabilities. And, without a doubt, he’s engaging and funny and connects with everyone he meets. 

It’s easy to understand why he doesn’t take no for an answer, he doesn’t have to, who could say no to him?