David McKusick spends winter nights supporting Dexter Regional High School’s basketball teams as a member of the cheerleading squad.
Recently, it is McKusick who is being cheered on by his teammates and the Dexter community.
McKusick, 16, has spent the last 10 days at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he is being treated for a bacterial infection in his heart, according to his mother, Cheryl McKusick.
McKusick was admitted on Jan. 30, two days after helping the Tigers win the Eastern Maine Class C cheerleading championships at the Bangor Auditorium.
“He’s a big reason why we got as far as we did at Eastern Maines,” said Dexter cheering coach Kacie Ladd.
“He throws our ‘baskets.’ He puts up our flyers,” Ladd added. “He’s our most advanced tumbler, a great jumper.”
Cheryl McKusick said her son is likely to be on antibiotics for several weeks and will be monitored closely. Eventually, David is expected to require surgery to replace a valve in his heart.
“He’s a really good kid and he’s doing a lot better,” she said Wednesday from EMMC. “I’m really thrilled with the progress he’s made and that we caught it in time.”
McKusick was born with a heart defect that required immediate surgery. He had suffered no ill effects until he began feeling poorly in December. Blood work and an echocardiogram finally revealed the infection and the valve problem.
However, Cheryl McKusick is happy to report David got some exciting news on Wednesday.
“He’s going to be released [Thursday from EMCC], knock on wood,” she said.
The Dexter High cheering squad, which is preparing for Saturday’s state championship competition in Augusta, is supporting McKusick the best it can.
For Wednesday night’s boys basketball game against Foxcroft Academy, Dexter decorated the high school gym in red. Team members made posters and were selling chocolate lollipops and special T-shirts to help defray the family’s medical expenses.
Ladd said the lettering on the T-shirts reads: “Cheer for David McKusick, the King of Hearts.”
She said because of McKusick’s reputation in cheerleading, other Eastern Maine squads, including those at Orono and Central High of Corinth, have either sent him flowers or held “wear red” days.
On Tuesday, McKusick received a visit from several members of the University of Maine men’s hockey team. They gave him a signed card and tickets to a future game.
Cheryl McKusick said the family is humbled by the outpouring of support for David.
“We appreciate so much what everybody’s done,” she said as she prepared to drive to Dexter for Wednesday’s fundraising event. “We’re really thrilled that everybody’s concerned. It really helps.”
The sudden onset of McKusick’s illness came as a shock to his teammates, who went from focusing on cheering to worrying about him.
“It definitely puts things in perspective,” Ladd said of McKusick’s illness. “Before, we just wanted to win. Now, we don’t have David and his being in the hospital is motivation for us to want to do well for him.”
If all goes well, McKusick will be in attendance Saturday in Augusta to cheer on the Dexter squad. His doctors have OK’d the trip.
“I think it will be good for him,” Cheryl McKusick said.
He also got an emotional boost when he received the top part of his uniform from Planet Cheer in Lewiston, which puts teams in all-star competitions.
David told his mother he is hopeful the surgery can be performed as soon as possible so he can return to cheer during his senior year. He also serves as a manager for the Dexter field hockey team and participates in school musical and dance productions.
In the meantime, McKusick plans to return to school on a part-time basis.
Anyone wishing to support the McKusicks can send donations to: David McKusick, Dexter Regional High School, 12 Abbott Hill Road, Dexter, ME 04930.