Levi McCormack was a rare spirit and a young Mormon boy with a beautiful smile, which hid a debilitating heart and lung condition. Levi’s life was all too brief, but it was a life lived large. Coverage by 60 Minutes and in social media drew attention to Levi’s life and his influence on many people - from regular citizens, to children’s show hosts, celebrity chefs and even royalty.
When Levi’s parents, Ashley and Karina McCormack, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Baulkham Hills stake (diocese) in Sydney, were first approached by 60 Minutes to do a story about their son, they were unsure whether to proceed. Having endured many open-heart surgeries, they wanted Levi to have as normal a life as possible.
However, they agreed and the crew from 60 Minutes first met with the McCormacks when Levi was five years of age. The purpose of the program’s producers was to draw attention to the high prevalence of heart defects amongst new-born babies.
In Levi’s case, his parents learned before his birth that he had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a condition in which only the right half of the chambers of the heart are fully formed in the womb. Until the early 1990s, doctors had no procedures available to them that would save the lives of those with this condition.
From then onwards, children such as Levi could have their lives extended for a period but, to do so, they would often have to undergo multiple open heart surgeries in their first few years of life. The first for Levi was just three days after birth.
The 60 Minutes report also brought to light a rare, life-threatening lung condition called Plastic Bronchitis which Levi had developed as a result of his heart defect.
Further reports by the 60 Minutes team followed, but when they caught up with Levi again for his ninth birthday, they ran up against a new reality. Levi’s heart condition had deteriorated so much that time had begun running out for the brave young man. A year before, doctors had told Levi’s parents that he would not survive for very much longer.
And, “on Valentine’s Day (February 14th, 2014), Levi passed away peacefully,” said Karl Stefanovic, the 60 Minutes reporter who had covered Levi’s story from the beginning, in their latest report which aired a week ago. “But he’ll always have a special place in our hearts as the little boy who made us laugh and cry and lived every moment he could.”
Levi was just three days shy of his 10th birthday.
Click here to view the full 60 Minutes report.
The slideshow showing Levi’s fight and the work of his doctors is presented here.
Eight hundred family, friends and others who had been touched by Levi’s life attended his funeral at the Baulkham Hills stake centre a week after he passed away. The congregation was dressed in light colours, commemorating the bright light Levi was to all. Even though he couldn’t attend school very much, his classmates always thought of him as a part of their school and often visited him while he lay ill at home. Many of his fellow students, their parents and all of the school faculty were there to say farewell.
During the funeral, his father, Ashley McCormack, and mother, Karina, gave poignant accounts of Levi’s life and described what occurred after they were told he did not have much time to live.
“Everything from that day on changed, not only in terms of his care but also in terms of how we approached life,” Karina said. “It was about capturing those precious, quiet, tender moments as a family together.”
The faith of Levi’s parents and family sustained them through their time of bereavement and gave them a greater perspective on life’s trials.
“There are countless others throughout the world who have suffered the loss of a child or have had children whose body wasn’t whole at birth,” said Karina McCormack after the funeral. “Going through a similar challenge ourselves has given us great empathy for the suffering that many experience.”
Yet, the family believes that the plan of salvation and the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ gives them an eternal perspective on what has occurred.
“For ten years, our family’s principal concern has been the survival of our son,” she said. “Now Levi has gone, we know that one day his broken body will be reunited with his spirit, resurrected and glorified and in perfect form. Through our Saviour, Jesus Christ, our family will be reunited and we will be together forever through the sacred ceremonies that take place in our temples.”
According to Ashley McCormack, Levi was a boy full of faith: “His understanding of the gospel was deep. He had great faith in prayer and was very specific about his needs. He often asked for priesthood blessings. He would almost always get up to bear his testimony during fast and testimony meetings. He once said, ‘I was pretty sure, but I still had to find out for myself and pray. Now I know the gospel is true.’”
During remarks at the service, his grandmother, Ronda Wakeley, said that Levi knew precisely where he was going.
“We lost Levi for a few moments a couple of hours before he passed away,” she said. “When he came back to us, he said that the feeling he had during his absence was something he had felt before – it was familiar to him. I think he was remembering the feeling of the beautiful pre-mortal world where, like all of us, Levi lived with our Heavenly Father as His spirit child before his birth.”
Now, said Mrs Wakeley, after a short life in which he had proved himself worthy, Levi had progressed to another place, a paradise where he awaits the great resurrection of all mankind.
“In this abode for our spirits, Levi and others with special missions are preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the billions who have never heard of the Saviour,” said Ronda.
“In this way, the redemptive power of Christ, his capacity to heal the wounds, bind the broken hearts and forgive sins reaches all mankind, not just the relative few who have heard and accepted his Gospel while in their earthly lives.”