According to Holly Knaak, her son Kyle is all of those things. He's never had a true best friend. He's never known anyone his own age who looks, sounds, or behaves like him.
A week with a teddy bear has changed his life forever. Here's the story of why.
Throughout his 13 years, Kyle Knaak has been missing an important piece of his life: a friend who bears the same scars.
He suffers from a congenital heart defect and a rare genetic disorder known as Williams Syndrome which occurs in only 1 in every 8,000 births. It results in people with the condition being extremely social, friendly to a fault like Kyle, which can be overbearing for other kids his age.
"Kids don't know how to react to them, so they back off and turn their backs. Or even more hurtful, they say cruel things," mom Holly tells me, sitting for the first time since I arrived. "He's such a loving child. He's a sociable child. But he's never had a friend or met someone his age he can relate to really."
But with a delivery to his mailbox, Christopher the bear arrived all the way from Pittsburgh. The toy suddenly became a buddy for the teenager who is mentally still seven.
"He's a bear, a teddy bear, actually," Kyle told me, raising the quotation marks around the word teddy. "The mail truck came, and my mom had this package. And there was the traveling bear."
"Would you say Chris is your best friend?" I asked him, as he fidgets.
"Yeah, he is, he's that kind of guy," Kyle's eyes brighten. "He's my best buddy, all that."
It's a side of her child, full of smiles and excitement, Holly has never seen.
"The past week has been one of the happiest we've had in a long time," Holly says. "I've been able to see him as simply my son. Like a lot of people, I can fall into the trap of seeing his disability. A lot of times, my job has been to keep him alive so long, that I stop seeing him and see his medical conditions."
Williams Syndrome can result in restricted blood vessels, high blood pressure, pain in the joints. It's also coupled with slight mental retardation, attention deficit disorder, and breathing problems.
Kyle experienced his first surgery at nine months old, and he's had 22 others since. His doctors never expected he'd live this long.
"We were told Kyle would never make it to his teens," Holly said. "We're on borrowed time, and we know that, but Kyle doesn't ."
Meet Christopher: The Congenital Heart Defect Bear
Sitting on the sofa in his living room, Kyle wrestles with the flaps of a medium cardboard box. His name and address are written in black sharpie. He pulls out a canister, attached to a tube.
"This is an oxygen tank," Kyle said flipping it in his hands expertly. "And this -- this is an oxygen mask to help Chris breathe."
"Do you have a mask like that ?" I ask, as he scoots to his knees, slipping the mask over the bear's head.
"Yeah, I have one like that," he says nonchalantly.
A patch on the bear's chest peeks out under his tee shirt.
"What's this?" I ask him, pointing to the heart shaped stitching.
"That's his broken heart," he sing-songs, still maneuvering the mask and searching for the bear's trachea -- a sign he's far too familiar with the medical world.
"Do you have a broken heart like he does, too?" I probe.
"Nope, not me! My heart's still there," he said uncertainly.
He quickly becomes frustrated, confused with why there's no hole in the bears throat, complaining Chris can't breathe if he can't get the tube in place.
Then Holly steps in, "Hon, he doesn't have a trachea. He's a bear, remember?"
"Oh yeah," he said without malice, moving on to sit Christopher up so I can have a look.
A Week in a Different World
"For one week he's gotten to be a normal kid and have a friend just like every other kid out there. And that's priceless to us," Holly says, cocking her head to look at the large eyes and curly halo of hair sitting next to her. "For once, he has a friend that pretty much is excited about doing whatever Kyle wants to do. Christopher never says no, does he honey?"
Christopher has his own congenital heart defect, an explanation for his accessories and scar on his chest. He's part of the Traveling Awareness Bear phenomenon. It's a Missouri-based nonprofit, which began as a one bear brainchild of a mom who's child had a stroke in the womb.
Since then, the group of bears has grown, spanning all sorts of conditions kids often suffer from, including Autism, Cerebal Palsy, Epilepsy, Down Syndrome, among others.
"It's strange to think a bear can do this, but Christopher has made Kyle feel not so alone," Holly said. "He finally has someone that's like him, to make him feel like he's part of something.
"Do you feel happy?" I ask Kyle.
"Yep," he said, happy to provide the frank, straight-forward answer.
"Veeery happy," he giggles, dragging out the e.
"That's all you can ask for, to keep your child from feeling pain whether its physical or emotional and Christopher does both," Holly says with a small smile.
"Does it break your heart?"
"That he's a bear?" she follows up. "Yes, of course. But what's worse is knowing people can't look past the differences. That people can be so cruel."
As I stand to leave, Kyle grasps Chris and clutches him to his chest. He'd like to hold on a little while longer to this friend that came from out of the blue.
"I have to let him go tomorrow," he tells me again, having already explained earlier Chris would have to head home on Friday.
"Does that make you sad?"
"Yeah, but he'll be back," he changes his lilt from depressed to downright cheery. "I'll just tell him, buddy you got to go."
Chris has more travels to take as the bearer of bright spots and bringer of smiles.
"You wouldn't think a bear could do that," Holly says laughing at herself. "But Christopher did."
Kids all across the country are waiting to be touched, by the bear that makes life bearable.
How to Request a Visit from a Traveling Bear
If your child suffers from a disorder, disease, or other health condition and you would like to request a visit, click here.
If you would like to donate a new bear to the cause, click here.
To see other families the foundation has touched, click here.