This is the story of Gavin Lingenfelter, the strongest person I know.

If you look at Gavin, you see a very handsome young man, who looks to have it all together. What you don’t see is the struggle inside that he deals with daily.

Gavin was born a healthy 7lb, 7oz, 21in long, baby boy. He was an overall healthy child - only one ear infection as a young child and rarely sick except for the occasional runny nose.

That is until March 2005.

The weekend of March 26, 2005, almost four-years-old, Gavin came down with a mild stomach bug. It wasn’t bad - but I stayed home from work on Monday just to make sure he was on the mend.

He wasn’t. Gavin began to scream in pain and his temperature spiked to over 100 degrees that morning.

I took him to the doctor but was sent home and told to give him fluids. By that afternoon, Gavin could not talk to me or focus his eyes on me. Something was terribly wrong. We raced back to the doctor and were admitted to a local hospital.

It was discovered the next day through a spinal tap that Gavin had viral meningitis. With this diagnosis we were sent to The University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital- infectious disease unit.

At this point Gavin was unconscious. He could not open his eyes, or communicate with us. He was in pain and very sensitive to light and noise. He was not getting better. After more tests, an MRI & an EEG, it was determined that Gavin had encephalitis (meningoencephalitis).

We were told at that time his chances of survival were not good. It was basically a 'wait and see' prognosis. Only time would tell.

Gavin is our miracle! He pulled through! After nine days in the hospital, we finally got to go home but things weren’t quite the same. Gavin came out of the hospital not being able to sit up by himself, walk or talk. We were all terrified of the unknown.

The neurologist did not give us much hope or advice except for “if it doesn’t come back within a year, it probably won’t”. I will never forget those words! At that moment I knew we would do whatever we had to do to help Gavin get back to his feisty, spunky, happy self!

As the swelling of Gavin’s brain decreased, he slowly began to walk, talk, eat. However, things were still not the same. His legs did not work like they used to. His gait was off and his balance was terrible. He could only take a few steps without falling but he kept trying!

He wanted to get back to running fast like he used to be able to do. His speech was also very different. It was very slow and hard to understand. Gavin worked hard at physical therapy and speech therapy to get better. He was determined!

Once Gavin started school, we knew the terrible effects of this virus did way more damage than we thought. School was a struggle. He fell behind his peers quickly which was very frustrating to him. He would watch how easily his friends could write, answer questions in class, do homework or even play.

It was not easy for Gavin.

He could barely write due to his decreased fine motor skills and his slow response time to questions made some think he did not understand or was not learning in school. This quickly caused him to have no confidence in his abilities and very low self- esteem. He resented having extra help & extended time on schoolwork. School became something he did not like. He acted out among his peers, teachers & even at home with us. He was frustrated, tired & felt defeated.

Even though Gavin had to try twice as hard at everything he did from school to friendships – he did it. Through a lot of hard work, struggle and tears he graduated high school with a 3.4 GPA. He even began to slowly come out of his shell. Through Gavin’s determination, he has managed to ride a bike, drive a car – passed his test on the first try and find a job he enjoys. Most of all Gavin has found something he is passionate about- modelling.

With no experience at all, Gavin tried out for International Model & Talent Agency (IMTA) NY 2019 at Images Model & Talent Agency in Lexington KY. I was so proud of him for stepping outside his comfort zone and was amazed to see him stand up in front of a group of strangers and read a script!

The NY trip wasn’t meant to be, but Images Model & Talent Agency encouraged him to attend classes to gain some experience. Through these classes he has found a passion for modelling- mainly print work. This has helped him to gain confidence & self-esteem and rise above all the obstacles that have stood in his way.

In August 2019, Gavin tried out for IMTA LA 2020 at Images Model & Talent Agency and made it!!! At this highly competitive international competition in Los Angeles, California, Gavin was awarded the “Spirit Award” for overcoming adversity in his life. He also received Honorable Mention (top 10 in his division) for: Fashion Print, Swimwear & TV-Beauty Commercial! Since this competition Gavin has also signed with a Model & Talent Agency in Atlanta Georgia.

Gavin’s story is truly a testament to anyone struggling with the effects of encephalitis, you can achieve your dreams! Through perseverance, determination and hard work Gavin has not let any of his disabilities slow him down. To say I am proud of him is an understatement. He makes my heart smile and all those who are privileged to know him, love him.


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