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‘Lil Grace

Like a person gaining vision after having lost sight, Grace Cantrell stared out in amazement.  From her car window seat she was mesmerized by the blue sky, trees, and others cars.

Grace today in 2015

The people Grace saw weren’t wearing scrubs.  It had been nearly a year since she was outside of a hospital, and now, little Grace was going home.

In the September 2014 edition of the Gwinnett Citizen, we told you the story of Grace Cantrell.  A three year old from Loganville, Grace was born with a rare heart condition called Restrictive Cardiomyopathy. It’s basically an enlarged heart. On March 27, 2014, Grace was admitted into Children’s Healthcare Egleston.  She was in need of a heart transplant.  When we last left Grace over the summer she was awaiting a new heart.  The wait would continue into the New Year.

“Christmas was hard because it felt as if the transplant was never going to happen,” said Shauna Cantrell,  Grace’s mother.  “We had set the hospital record for the longest inpatient waiting for a heart.”

Shauna, her husband Tim, and Grace’s little sister Juliette, had all celebrated birthday’s in the hospital. Now it was Grace’s turn.  Grace was turning four on Monday,  January 5, 2015.  On Sunday, Shauna left the hospital to go home to gather a few things.  She was biding time, waiting for a party store to open so she could get some decorations for Grace’s birthday.  That’s when the phone rang.  It was the heart transplant coordinator.  They had a heart for Grace.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Shauna said, excitement still in her voice.  “I was crying, the coordinator was crying.  It was unreal.”

There is always more than one perspective to any situation and so it is when an organ becomes available for donation.  It’s a point where sorrow meets joy, where one life makes way for another.  “We’re so thankful to the donor family,” Shauna said, “but we know what they must be going through.”

Shauna called Tim to let him know Grace was getting an early birthday gift.  On her birthday, instead of blowing out candles, Grace was being prepped for surgery.  They had to wait five hours for the heart to arrive. By now, the Cantrell’s had come accustomed to waiting.  The surgery took another four hours, and, finally, Shauna and Tim were allowed to see Grace in the Intensive Care Unit.

“It was amazing to see her alive but it was very emotional as well,” Shauna said.  “She had all sorts of tubes and IV’s hooked up to her.”

Later that night, still on her birthday, Grace had an episode.  Her new heart momentarily failed, and it required chest compressions and a shock treatment to keep her heart going.

On Friday, January 16th, it was time for Grace to go home.  Grace and Juliette were rolled through the hospital in little red wagons to the applause of the hospital staff. Grace wore a shirt that read, “A donor saved my life,” while her sister wore one that read, “A donor saved my sisters life.”  Then came that ride home where Grace appeared to be seeing the world for the first time.

When they pulled into their driveway they couldn’t help but notice the “Welcome Home” decorations, courtesy of St. Anna’s Catholic Church. People from the church, and other family and friends, were on hand to greet the family.  Grace got out of the car smiling. 

Grace recently has shown signs that her body may be rejecting her new heart.  So, once a month she’ll be back in the hospital for a couple of days to undergo a treatment that has an 80% cure rate.  But, said Shauna: “Grace has amazing energy.  And she is smiling.”  

If you would like to make a donation to help pay for Grace’s current and future medical needs, you may visit “” and type in “Love for Lil Grace” in the search box. You may also visit the “Grace Cantrell Update” page on Facebook.

EARLGRAYEarl Gray is a freelance writer.  Send comments/suggestions to