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Cancer patient's family considers $20K halfcourt shot at OKC Thunder game to be miraculous

Heath Kufahl made a halfcourt shot at Tuesday night's game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Lakers.
by Darnell Mayberry Modified: March 7, 2013 at 12:03 am •  Published: March 7, 2013

A day later, the light had come on and Heath Kufahl could connect the dots.

Something about the way everything lined up leading to his magical moment Tuesday night at the Oklahoma City Thunder game convinced him that his fling was far from a fluke.

Kufahl is the 37-year-old fan who swished a halfcourt shot just before the start of the fourth quarter. He became the first person this season to win the $20,000 prize.

“I was obviously really excited,” he said, looking back on his celebratory dash around the Chesapeake Energy Arena court. “I kind of reacted like a little kid, but that's OK.”

He had good reason.

Kufahl's wife, Jenni, is battling Stage III appendix cancer.

The fight is nearing five months. Jenni has undergone chemotherapy for nearly four.

To the Kufahl family, the prize money is precious. Much of it will go toward mounting medical bills.

But both Heath and Jenni believe there was more to that miraculous shot and the subsequent oversized five-figure cardboard check with which they were presented moments after stunning the sellout crowd of 18,203.

Instead of grieving upon her diagnosis, Jenni had the desire to be an inspiration. She wanted to turn her personal battle into a blessing for others. Use her pain as a platform.

On Wednesday, the Kufahl's telephone lines were flooded by local and national news outlets. All wanted to hear the heartwarming story. Prominent Internet sites wrote about it. ESPN's top show, SportsCenter, had Heath and Jenni on for a live interview. CNN even carried the story.

“Being able to hit that shot and the excitement of that just opened that even more,” Heath said. “She's been able to kind of tell her story and our story and hopefully be a blessing to people to know that life is difficult but God's in control. We saw that (Tuesday) night. That wasn't only going to happen by chance. I think he was in control.”


Heath Kufahl coaches boys basketball and volleyball at Christian Heritage Academy in Del City. His father-in-law, John Merrell, is the school's athletic director and varsity football coach.

Late last season, Merrell missed a pivotal game to be by Jenni's side as she lay in a hospital bed. She had been diagnosed just two days earlier.

One week after Jenni turned 38, Merrell sat helpless by his daughter's bed as she asked the doctor if she was going to die.

“I had no idea what a horrible disease cancer was,” Merrell said. “I didn't know anything about it. I'd been blessed not to have that as a family issue.”

Soon after Merrell learned of his son-in-law's improbable shot his mind naturally thought of how the money would help.

“I was elated,” Merrell said, “awestruck probably, because I thought of how they could really use that. I was so excited for them.”

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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