One local church dedicated a playground Sunday to the memory of a child that lived only three months and 23 days, but inspired countless people with his indomitable will to live.
“Ozzy’s Play Place” is located at New Hope Ministries, located on KY Hwy. 1232 just outside of Corbin, and it was constructed in honor of Oscar “Ozzy” Falkowski following a successful fundraising effort to build the playground.
Over 100 people attended Sunday’s ceremony honoring Ozzy and the opening of the new playground. New Hope Pastor Mike Addison said the playground’s construction is a testament to Ozzy’s unifying power over everyone who knew him.
“This playground is about unity and what people can do when they come together,” Addison said. “Today is a celebration of life, and today we celebrate how Ozzy impacted every one of our lives.”
Ozzy was diagnosed, before he was even born, with a heart defect called “coarctation” of the aorta — a narrowing of the main artery that leads from the heart to the rest of the body. Doctors later discovered a second problem that would also require surgery shortly after he was born.
Ozzy was born on Feb. 26, 2014 and died on June 19. He was only home with his parents, Kelly Jo White-Falkowski and her husband, Joey Falkowski, a single day before he had to be airlifted to Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville because he had gone into cardiac shock. Once at Kosair, Ozzy underwent 10 separate surgeries and 17 other procedures, but finally succumbed to his illness.
Kelly Jo said the effort to construct the playground, coupled with Sunday’s ceremony, were positive reminders of the impact of Ozzy’s life.
“I love to hear people talk about him because it just lets me know that he did impact a lot of people and that he won’t ever be forgotten,” she said. “It’s bittersweet,”
Joe Falkowski added. “Of course, we’d love to have him here with us, but that’s not possible. Hearing people say these things about him and doing this in his honor … I don’t even have the words to describe how much that means to us.”
Ozzy’s story became on online sensation through social media. A post on Facebook led to the ubiquitous symbol of his struggle — Superman’s logo with Ozzy’s name superimposed in the middle. It caught on, and Kelly Jo, who said she always referred to her son as “her little Superman” was receiving supportive messages from all over the world as a result.
Paula Farmer, Senior Pastor at New Hope, said she “never would have imagined in a million years one special baby could have impacted the lives of so many.”
“I just thank God for his life and what it did to change so many people … those that were saved because of this one child, and the miracles that took place.” “He woke a lot of us up and made us realize how important our children and grandchildren are,” she added. “This playground, it’s a tribute to a child who has truly been a hero to all of us.”
Dr. Natalie Henderson, a pediatric critical care specialist, said she was amazed at the family support Ozzy had during his 101 days in the hospital. She was a first year fellow in the PICU at the hospital when Ozzy was rushed there for treatment.
“Someone was there with him every day and night, night and day … every single minute,” Henderson said.
She added that she was struck by the personalized, embroidered blankets that always covered Ozzy during his time at Kosair. The family gave one to her with her son’s name on it to remember them by.
Henderson said congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect among children, affecting about one in every 100 births. It is the number one cause of birth-related deaths. “These are statistics, but your Ozzy and our Ozzy is more than a statistic,” Henderson said. She read messages from staff members who cared for Ozzy at Kosair.
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell also wrote a letter to the family that was read aloud at the dedication.
The ceremony was capped by a ribbon cutting.