Kinsley Grace Burkhead never said a word in 10 years, yet her life spoke volumes.
Born without six bands on chromosome 6, she was one in a million, maybe one in a billion, perhaps the only one in the world with her chromosomal makeup.
Kinsley died in her sleep April 24.
Kinsley’s health issues were so complex that doctors handed her parents, Southeast Christian Church members Mike and Tina Burkhead, a spreadsheet of her challenges.
Kinsley struggled to breathe, had a serious heart defect and could not walk, talk or eat.
When their baby girl’s future seemed bleak, Tina put Psalm 139:14 above her isolette in the neo-natal intensive care unit, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.”
Since no one had any idea how long or how well Kinsley would live, the Burkheads determined to love her as well and as long as they could.
Thousands followed Kinsley’s journey when Tina started a Facebook page for support and encouragement for C6 families. They saw Kinsley grin while strapped to Tina’s back on family hikes, in the middle of the action on family outings, in therapy, laughing at her brothers and sisters. They learned she giggled with delight on roller coasters.
They also saw the everyday reality of feeding tubes, hospitalizations, diapers, frequent illnesses. In it all, people watched the Burkheads love Kinsley well.
“From day one, I made it my mission to let her experience as much in life as any other child. Even if it wasn’t wheelchair accessible, she was carried or worn,” Tina said.
Michael said God spoke through the stillness of Kinsley’s life.
“We learned to trust God’s plan,” he said. “Kinsley helped slow us down. She was gentle and sweet. Our children adored her. If you mentioned Jesus to her, she lit up and smiled. If we didn’t have Kinsley, we’d be less dependent on God.”
Kinsley was a star in the Disabilities Ministry at Southeast.
“She always came with a smile,” said Mary Tatum, who leads Southeast’s Disabilities Ministry. “Our volunteers always looked forward to seeing her. We saw Jesus in her—not by her words, but in her heart. We felt honored her parents trusted her with us.”
Kinsley was the Burkheads’ second child, and they had three more children, including twins, after Kinsley was born. Life was crazy-busy with five children, but chaos brought its own sweet rhythm to family life.
In 2012, Tina ran her first marathon. She ran many more with Kinsley nearby.
“Kinsley was with me the last six times I ran the Blue Ridge Marathon and will always be with me until we are together on the roads of heaven,” Tina said. “While I always tell Mike how my mind can’t envision heaven being any prettier than waterfalls and long-range mountain views, I’m now certain heaven is more gorgeous as my curly-headed Kinsley Grace is exploring and making her beautiful home there.”