“She’s a fun little girl,” Shauna said of her now three year old daughter. “She will play on swings at the park all day long.”
Grace has a cerebral side as well. “She really likes art projects and painting,” Shauna said of her precocious daughter, adding, “and she loves to read. Grace will sit for hours and read.” Dr. Seuss’s “Go Dog Go” is her favorite book. Little Grace. Fun and games, and a sense of wonder.
In August of last year the laughter slowed. Grace began vomiting. Frequently. Two months earlier Shauna had given birth to Juliette. The doctor thought Grace’s sickness was anxiety and emotional stress over having a new sibling. This appeared to be true when the vomiting subsided. Six months passed and all was good. Then the bottom fell out.
It started with a cough that wouldn’t go away. It was March of this year and initially allergies were thought to be the culprit, but that proved to be a misdiagnosis as well. Later that month, at two in the morning, Grace was coughing so hard she couldn’t catch her breath. Shauna and Tim rushed her to Children’s Healthcare at Egleston. Grace was taken to the cardiac intensive care unit. The next morning, March 28th, the Cantrell’s met with the cardiologist. They were told that Grace has Restrictive Cardiomyopathy, a disorder that effects how the heart muscles function. Grace’s heart was beating stronger than normal and it wasn’t relaxing as it should. The end result was poor blood flow. Her heart was also enlarged. Only about two children a year are diagnosed with Restrictive Cardiomyopathy in Georgia.
The cardiologist told Shauna and Tim that Grace would need a heart transplant. The news got worse from there. They were told that they would most likely outlive their daughter. The doctor explained that heart transplants usually last 10 to 15 years at which time a new heart is needed. The second heart usually has a shorter life span than the first.
“We cried for days,” Shauna said. One bad heart has broken so many others.
On April 11th, Grace went on the transplant list with a high priority tag. The waiting game began. Children’s Health-care has become the family’s new home. “We’ve been in the hospital for over three months,” Shauna lamented. “It’s been hard but we’re just trying to get through it.”
Shauna said Grace was agitated at first about her new surroundings but that she has gotten used to it. Grace goes to therapy every day and spends the rest of her time playing video games and reading. She also enjoys the company of her little sister. Juliette was nine months old when Grace entered the hospital and the family has since celebrated her first birthday there.
To help offset current and future medical bills, this past July family and friends held a benefit auction at Meridian Park in Loganville, not far from the Cantrell’s home. Zaxby’s donated all the food and Shauna said the event was a huge success.
In the meantime, the wait for a donor heart goes on. “It could be an hour or it could be months,” Shauna said. Grace seems to be taking it all in stride, living each day, one beat at a time.
If you would like to contribute to Grace’s Trust Fund, you can do so at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/love-for-lil-grace/156351. You can also go to any BB&T bank and make a donation to the Grace Cantrell fund.