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Kimball school beating together for freshman student's open heart surgey

Bennett Namanny, center in green, gets a group hug from his fellow Kimball students on Monday. Bennett will undergo a heart valve replacement surgery on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
More than 150 students, teachers and staff wore red to show their support for Bennett Namanny, center, who will undergo heart surgery on Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

KIMBALL — Kimball students have heart.

On Monday, a sea of red overtook Kimball High School with more than 150 students wearing the bright crimson to show support for one of their own — freshman Bennett Namanny on his last day of classes before undergoing open heart surgery.

Namanny was born with a narrow heart valve, which restricts blood flow to various parts of his body. But with treatment, he has been able to lead a relatively normal life, he said, running long distance in track, breaking two school records.

But toward the end of track season, he noticed he felt lightheaded and faint while running, so doctors told him to cease activity immediately. After running a multitude of tests, doctors determined it's time to replace his aortic valve.

Surgery will take place Wednesday in Omaha, Nebraska, and although intimidating, Namanny said his fears have been eased because of his support system in Kimball.

"I'm already feeling pretty confident because of them," Namanny said Monday afternoon. "I'm ready."

Along with Monday's display, students have designed shirts reading "I (heart) Bennett," the volleyball team laid on the gym floor creating a heart shape with the words "Bennett has our hearts" in the middle and created a float for him in the homecoming parade. The shop class engraved a mug and the FFA made a blanket for him.

That kind of support is what Namanny expects to help him through a grueling recovery.

This isn't the first procedure he's faced. Twice before, doctors used balloons to stretch Namanny's aortic valve to postpone the need for Wednesday's surgery.

And his mother, Jennifer, said this won't be the last time her son will have to undergo the same surgery, but because his condition was caught early, he has the opportunity to live a full life.

Often, it's not identified until a person dies in the middle of exercise, Jennifer said.

But Namanny's heart defect was noticed when he was 1 week old, allowing doctors to create a treatment plan, possibly saving his life.

"He's in it for life ... it'll never be a healed thing, it's something he'll have to deal with forever and have other valve replacements," Jennifer said. "We've always known it was coming, now it's time to do the scary part."

Namanny, a tall, spry athlete who participates in basketball, baseball and golf along with track and cross country, said the first question he plans to ask his doctor is how soon he can return to basketball.

Jennifer said Namanny will remain in the hospital for seven to nine days and will return to classes after approximately three weeks. It's unclear when he could return to sports, but it is possible he could make a comeback halfway through the season, Jennifer said.

But for now, the family's focus is on getting Namanny healthy.

"I don't think he'll realize how yucky he's felt until after surgery when he's feeling better," Jennifer said. "And it's amazing and humbling living in a small town, how much people care and are willing to help do whatever it takes to help him get better. That makes everything easier."