The kindest cut

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 22, 2013

ROCKWELL — These two hunting knives with the deer antler handles have special meaning to Seth Killian.
How could they not?
But first a little bit about Killian, a 16-year-old junior at Carson High School who hasn’t felt this strong or healthy for a long time.
As an infant, Killian took injections for a rare cancer or autoimmune phenomenon called histiocytosis, most often seen in children under 15 years old.
Because of how young he was, he doesn’t remember much about the ailment except the needles injected into his thigh.
It’s hard to forget something like that, even when you’re 1-year-old.
Back then his parents were taking him to Duke University Medical Center once a week for his treatments. The shots worked, and Annette Shive says her son is “in the book” as a case study for treatment of histiocytosis.
Before he was 8 years old, Killian had two operations to remove a tumor in one of his ears. He lost a little hearing, but the tumor has not returned.
Since he was 8, however, Killian has undergone three open-heart operations — in 2005, 2009 and 2011 — to replace a bad aortic valve. His first two operations took place at Duke in Durham, then in the summer of 2011, Killian followed his surgeon out to The Children’s Hospital in Aurora, Colo., for the third operation.
The pig valve he received in Denver seems to have done the trick.
The only medication he is taking is baby aspirin, and he checks in with his Charlotte cardiologist, Dr. James R. Herlong, once a year.
Overall, Seth is earning good grades, playing his guitar, driving his truck, shooting hoops in the driveway, hunting and fishing. Seth will tell you himself he’s pretty outgoing.
“He’s very special,” Shive says. “He’s definitely a miracle.”
Jackie Drew, his grandmother, adds that no matter what Seth has faced “he’s always come through.”
“He’s an active child,” she says. “Nothing has ever slowed him down, I can assure you of that.”
Killian learned to hunt and fish from his father, Lloyd B. Killian Jr., who everybody called “Bernie.”
Bernie Killian worked at the Freightliner plant in Cleveland, also where his friend and neighbor Mark Koontz was employed.
The men lived in the Parkland neighborhood off Providence Church Road. Because Seth’s parents had remarried, he often visited Bernie’s home and, in the process, became friends with Koontz and his family.
Bernie Killian was, to put it mildly, a big-time outdoorsman. When he was only 6, Seth would walk with his father on hunting trips.
Seth shot his first deer as a 12-year-old and also did a lot of fishing with his dad on Badin Lake, where his grandparents had a place.
No one could skin a deer as fast as his father, Seth says. It was as though the deer had a zipper on it.
Overall, Bernie was a character. “He was a mess,” Koontz laughs. “He was fun, a good neighbor and a good friend. And he loved his children.”
Seth has an older sister, Taylor, who is a dental assistant.
Seth says his father was crazy, just like he is, and he could beat anybody arm-wrestling. He had a secret move, which he taught Seth.
“I don’t tell anybody,” Seth says.
Bernie Killian died March 17, 2012. He was only 47, and it was one more setback for Seth.
A few months ago, Koontz asked Annette if it would be all right if he could have something of Bernie’s and make a gift for Seth.
He settled on the idea of taking deer antlers from one of Bernie’s many kills and having someone incorporate them into homemade hunting knives.
To make a long story short, Koontz first contacted the men from Boone who are seen on the “Hillbilly Blood” television show.
They directed him to another N.C. outdoorsman, Preston Roberts, who often appears on The History Channel’s “Mountain Men” show as a neighbor of Eustace Conway.
Roberts agreed to make knives for Seth, and he also fashioned sheaths out of old military saddles.
“I believe in simple truths …,” Roberts said in writing back to Koontz after the knives were finished, “that sowing a kindness will yield a harvest beneficial to many, that the youth hold our future in their hands, that perhaps, through this simple gesture, Seth will have a deeper insight into his father.”
Seth had never mentioned it to anyone, but Bernie Killian once had told him how his own late father made a knife with a deer antler handle, and it was something that had passed down to Bernie.
Bernie remembered his father every time he saw or held the knife, Seth says.
Koontz traveled to Brent and Annette Shive’s home Wednesday evening to present Seth with the knives as an early Christmas present.
“I mostly just couldn’t believe it,” Seth says.
But when Koontz also told him the deer antlers had belonged to his father, Bernie, emotions took over for Seth.
“It’s a different ball game now,” he says.
One more thing about Seth Killian.
Herlong, his cardiologist, talked Seth into being a counselor this past summer at Camp Luck, a retreat for “heart kids” in King’s Mountain, S.C.
Seth was there a week, and Herlong thought it was important for him to be among the younger pediatric heart patients facing the same issues Seth has encountered.
With all of his energy, Seth fit right in, and he was able to show many of the children they didn’t have to be afraid of the surgeries they might be facing.
He even came up to a little ditty about heart valves that he sang for the kids.
“It’s really just a chant,” Killian says.
He was voted favorite camp counselor.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or