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Children’s Miracle Network star who overcame heart defect at birth dies at age 33

Kyrie Higginbotham was 1st Florida baby to survive groundbreaking surgery to correct heart condition

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former child star of the Children’s Miracle Network, which has raised millions of dollars for two Jacksonville-area hospitals, has died. Kyrie Higginbotham was 33 years old.

Born in the summer of 1987, Kyrie was a miracle baby.

“We thank God for the doctors,” her mother Janice said after her daughter’s birth.

Kyrie was the first Florida baby to survive a groundbreaking and high-risk surgery to correct a congenital heart defect that would have ended her life soon after it began.

In 1989, the next time News4Jax saw Kyrie, she was a happy toddler playing with her older brother. As she and family members celebrated her second birthday, they were about to fly to Philadelphia for an extended hospital stay, which would include Kyrie’s second and final heart operation.

Months later, there was the joyful homecoming.

“This moment is a great moment for us. We are through. Thank God,” Kyrie’s mother said after the surgery. “And I do want to say, thank you very much for all the prayers, all the cards and letters and all the love.”

The annual Children’s Miracle Network telethon was on Channel 4 until 2003, during which Kyrie became a star. We watched her grow up, always with family by her side.

Eventually, she was old enough to take pledges from callers, which she was eager to do from an early age, with her mother by her side.

“I would put Kyrie on the phone, and I’d say, ‘Kyrie, say hello.’ And I’d put the phone up to her ear, and she would grab it and jabber up a storm,” Janice Higginbotham explained.

At 15, Kyrie did a commercial promoting the telethon. She grew up healthy and became active in the youth ministry at her church. Here’s a photo from her high school graduation:

“She was always willing to be the first person to greet people when they came into the church. And when young people came into the youth ministry, she would always make sure they were comforted,” said her father, Steve. “If they looked like they needed someone to talk to, then she was always available to talk to them, greet them, make them feel comfortable. And, you know, just being a welcoming person, which is really what she was her entire life, a welcoming person.”

Recently, Kyrie died peacefully in her sleep. Her family believes her heart simply stopped beating.

“The day after she passed away, she received 55,000 emails,” Janice Higginbotham said. “Now, we didn’t understand that. It was people reaching out that knew her from the past, knew her now. We had people we had never met before, in other states.”

Kyrie adored children and worked as a nanny. She loved spending time with her family.

Notably, Kyrie had been under the care of a doctor throughout her entire life. But she was physically active, enjoyed spinning and was saving to buy a Peloton.

“There was absolutely zero, zero indication there was anything wrong with her whatsoever,” her father said. “It doesn’t mean there wouldn’t eventually be a time when there could have been some other surgery or even a heart transplant, but there was no indication whatsoever the day before she passed away.”

The Higginbothams continue to lean on their faith and a message they repeat often to each other.

“Don’t let nobody steal your joy, not even me. And, see you tomorrow or tonight in the sky,” Steve Higginbotham said.

“And we talked about that. We talked about Heaven and when the Lord would come,” Janice Higginbotham said. “And we’ll be together forever. So, I look forward to that.”

About the Author:

Tom Wills joined Channel 4 in 1975 and has co-anchored Jacksonville's highest-rated evening newscasts for more than 40 years.