Fundraisers assisting toward boy’s heart transplant expenses


Crossroads Church hosted a chili cookoff with trophies for the winners. The real winner of the fundraising was Braden Knebel, a young Jefferson area boy in need of a heart transplant. Fundraisers are being held to assist COTA with transplant-related expenses.


Dec. 7, 2009, was a magnificent day for Matt and Michelle Knebel of Jefferson — it marked the birth of a beautiful, strong little man named Braden, the light of his parents’ lives. He had 10 fingers, 10 toes and was ready to take on the world.

However, much to the Knebel’s dismay, Braden was diagnosed with serious congenital heart defects. He underwent two heart surgeries within the first six weeks of his life, followed by a g tube/nissen fundiplication surgery at 3 months old, which was a significant digestive tract surgery. His third heart surgery was in January of 2011. The surgeries led doctors to diagnose him with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy (RCM), which refers to the weakening of the heart muscle. The weakness causes the heart to fill poorly, squeeze poorly or both.

Doctors told Braden’s family that the only way for him to survive is to receive a heart transplant and that he would need one sooner than anyone thought. Braden has experienced more than many adults ever will — he truly is a little fighter! The Knebels hope to gain support, prayers and positive thoughts from the community and to inspire others with a strong little boy who has fought for his life since day one.

It may seem easy to just say “let’s do it” when doctors say that a little boy’s only means of survival is to receive a heart transplant. Unfortunately, since heart transplants are extremely complicated and significant, they will sometimes exceed $500,000, which is not an amount most people have waiting in their bank accounts. The Knebels are thrilled to have the help of their caring Jefferson neighbors who are dutifully helping to raise funds for Braden’s life-saving surgery.

Johnny’s Pizza in Jefferson has already hosted a benefit where a portion of the proceeds, which included pizza, subs and garlic knots, went to Braden.

On Nov. 4, Crossroads Church hosted a successful benefit as well. Lead Pastor Rod Zwemke reports that at least 80 people attended this chili cook-off event and enjoyed delicious food, fun and good company. Attendees brought their own chili and first-, second- and third-place winners were awarded prizes. Donations were taken up for the chili and $150 was raised to go toward Braden’s heart transplant.

Even smaller events like this chili cook-off will help the Knebel family tremendously. It will not only help to raise funds, but will hopefully spread the word about Braden. He and his family will appreciate each and every supporter, no matter what.

Another fundraiser will be held this Friday, Nov. 30, at the Winder Waffle House on West May Street. From 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., 20 percent of the sales will go toward the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, or COTA, in honor of Braden. All profits will go toward transplant-related expenses.

For more information about Braden Knebel or to find ways to help him get the heart he needs, please visit

Farah Bohannon is a freelance writer living in Winder. She loves to utilize her skills to write inspiring stories. Reach her at