STOCKTON — Morgan Bessler always has been a San Francisco 49ers fan, more so now that she's friends with the starting quarterback.
The 8-year-old from Stockton was born with heart disease and is a regular attendee at Camp Taylor, a nonprofit group dedicated to children with heart disease. Colin Kaepernick, whose family sadly has dealt with the issue, volunteered this summer at the camp in Livermore and met Morgan and many other children. He invited Morgan and fellow Camp Taylor member Ethan Millerick of Turlock to watch the 49ers play the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 9 at Candlestick Park. Bonus: The 49ers won with a score of 27-13.
"He's a really nice person," Morgan said. "It was cool to meet him and go on the sidelines to watch him." Morgan, a third-grader at August Knodt Elementary School in Stockton, has an autographed mini helmet and hat from Kaepernick. The children brought a gift for Kaepernick.
"They had made a bracelet for him during the summer, and another in 49ers colors when they went to the game," said Kimberlie Gamino, the founder of Camp Taylor, a medically supervised free camp that caters to children with heart disease. "When they gave him the new one, he pulled the other one out of his backpack and said he always has it with him. It was such a heartwarming moment."
Kaepernick was thrilled to see Ethan and Morgan again. "It was awesome to have them come out to Candlestick," Kaepernick told 49ers.com. "Ethan had heart surgery 12 days before the game and he was out there, showing me his scars. They almost took up his whole upper body, and he was out there cheering and having a good time."
Kaepernick, who played football at Pitman High in Turlock and the University of Nevada, has personal reasons for his involvement in Camp Taylor. His parents, Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, lost two sons to heart ailments before they adopted Colin. After he joined the 49ers in 2011, his parents reached out to Gamino, who started the camps in 2002.
Her son, Taylor, was born with heart disease and she was looking for a place for him to meet other children in similar situations. The camp motto is "Kids Meet ... Scars Blend ... Wonders Happen," and there are five camps in California and one in Hawaii.
"Camp Taylor is the organization I've been working with a lot because it hits close to home," Kaepernick said. "For my family, for my parents, I thought it would be a good thing to do out of respect for them and love for them. It's a tragedy that they've gone through, and if in any way I can help people going through that or try to prevent that, I want to do anything I can to help that cause."
Kaepernick played, swam, participated in arts and crafts, and sang "This Little Light of Mine" with the youngsters, according to Gamino. Ken Bessler, Morgan's father, said Kaepernick just wanted to quietly meet the children and didn't want publicity.
"Back in July when he came to camp, we were all so impressed by him," Ken Bessler said. "He came with his mother and father. He didn't bring his agent or a camera crew or the press. And he wasn't one of those guys who just made an appearance. He stayed.
"I'm a lifelong Broncos fan, but now I'm a big Colin Kaepernick fan."
Gamino said the quarterback will continue to participate in the Camp Taylor and his Colin Kaepernick Against All Odds Golf Tournament this summer at Del Rio Country Club. Sponsorships are being accepted.
For more information, visit http://kidsheartcamp.org or call (209) 545-4715.