home about us advertise with us subscribe to Jonesboro Occasions submit an event contact download the 2008 datebook
give a gift subscription

How Lily Grace’s Healed Heart is Helping Others
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Amy Long

T his past November marked one year since 5-year-old Lily Grace Gairhan’s open heart surgery. Later this month, that brave, spunky little girl will be honored at Gairhan Dental Care Red Cross Blood Drive, an event her family hopes to hold annually to save lives in her honor.

In August 2016, Lily Grace saw St. Bernards Children’s Clinic pediatrician Dr. Angie Edwards for a cough after returning home from a Florida vacation. After listening to Lily Grace’s heart and hearing what she suspected to be a heart murmur, Edwards recommended an echocardiogram.

“We had an echo two days later at St. Bernards,” said Lily Grace’s mother, Dr. Emily Gairhan. “The tech told us we’d be free to go in 20 minutes because that’s how long the test normally took. An hour later, Lily Grace was still in there, and I knew something probably wasn’t right.”

The on-call cardiologist called in to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and recommended that they take Lily Grace there as soon as possible. The following Tuesday, doctors repeated the echocardiogram and ran labs before giving the Gairhan family Lily Grace’s prognosis.

“When we got there and got the diagnosis of open heart surgery, it was really shocking,” said Emily. “We weren’t ready for that. We left that day and we were really emotional. We were just so scared and so shocked.”

Lily Grace was diagnosed with a Sinus Venus Atrial Septal Defect (ASD), which is a rare form of ASD. Emily explained that while most holes are in the middle of the heart, which means they can usually be repaired in a catheterization lab, her daughter’s was at the top of her heart, which would require open-heart surgery to repair. Lily Grace also had Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return, or PAPVR, where two of her four pulmonary arteries drained to her right atrium; for the first four years of her life, Lily Grace’s blood was only 50 percent oxygenated.

Following the diagnosis, Emily says she began researching all she could about Lily Grace’s condition. She also spoke with a friend in Jonesboro, Mary-Margaret Scholtens, whose son had the same condition when he was young and previously had open-heart surgery to repair the defect. Scholtens recommended a surgeon who had since retired, but Dr. Charles Fraser, the surgeon-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital and co-director of its heart program, originally studied under that surgeon at Cleveland Clinic.

“During that time, I was a crazy researcher,” said Emily. “I found out everything I could about her condition. I was able to be at peace with our decision in choosing Texas Children’s for her surgery. I wrote a letter to Dr. Fraser’s nurse and sent all her labs and asked someone to contact me because we were very interested in doing her surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital. Several days later, Dr. Fraser called me himself and talked to me for 45 minutes. We prayed about it, and that sealed the deal for Scott and me. We fell in love with the whole place.”

Much preparation went into Lily Grace’s open-heart surgery, which was scheduled for Nov. 18, 2016. For six weeks before the surgery, Lily Grace and her younger brother, Parker, had to be quarantined to keep her healthy enough for the procedure. Then, the Monday before her surgery, Emily and her dad, Steve Ballard, flew to Houston to meet up with Scott’s sister, Sarah Cole, so that the three of them could donate the blood to be used in Lily Grace’s surgery.

“The day of surgery, we went to the hospital with our family,” said Emily. “Lily Grace got to do some crafts with both of her grandmas before she got put to sleep, and I was able to hold her while they did that. We were updated about every 45 minutes. I prayed and rewrote my Bible verses the whole time she was in there; Job 5:9, Proverbs 3:5 and Isaiah 41:10 were my favorites, along with the saying that ‘The only way God can show us He’s in control is to put us in situations we can’t control.’ It ended up being a four-and-a-half-hour surgery, and she did awesome.

“Scott and I are both so grateful for our doctors involved with LG and for the huge support team we had throughout this unexpected journey. It indeed strengthened our relationship with Christ and helped us remember we are not in control. We both experienced the power of prayer and received such peace the day of her surgery.”

Lily Grace was able to stand up and walk less than 24 hours after surgery. She was in the ICU for three days, then a regular room for two before the family was discharged to a hotel for a week. Following a repeat echo and lab work, they were all able to return to Jonesboro. Six weeks after that, Lily Grace was back in school with her new zipper, her name for her surgical scar.

“I had a hole in my heart. I was scared and didn’t want to do surgery, but after, I wasn’t scared anymore; I was really brave,” said Lily Grace. “I love my heart, and I love my zipper. I’m so glad my baby brother doesn’t have to have surgery because that would be sad. Dr. Fraser and God fixed my heart. My zipper is really cool, and Dr. Fraser did a good job drawing a straight line.”

“Sometimes she calls it a victory scar,” added Emily. “She loves to show it to people. Now, she is so much more energetic. She seems to feel great and loves to play. … It’s amazing to me to see how resilient a child can be and how they bounce back. They truly do.”

Today, Scott and Emily give thanks to God and the prayers and support of countless people that Lily Grace is a happy, energetic 5-year-old who loves to dance, draw, paint, do gymnastics and play with her friends and little brother. They are also thankful for an amazing team at Texas Children’s Hospital, which was named U.S. News and World Report’s 2017-2018 Best Children’s Hospital in Cardiology and Heart Surgery.

In honor of Lily Grace’s healed heart and the important role that blood donations played in her open-heart surgery, Emily’s dental practice, Gairhan Dental Care, is holding a blood drive on Feb. 23.

“I felt led to have a blood drive and be a part of collecting blood for others in the community through Red Cross,” said Emily. “This will be our first of what will become an annual blood drive at Gairhan Dental Care.”

Because Emily, her dad and her sister-in-law were all able to donate the actual blood to be used in Lily Grace’s surgery, the family was able to see firsthand just how important and lifesaving blood donations can be.

“Prior to her diagnosis, I’d donate blood here and there but didn’t really think of the recipients; I donated because it’s just what you do,” said Emily. “Now, after seeing the other side of it, I know it’s saving lives. It’s someone’s lifeline during a surgery. … I was so appreciative of my dad and sister-in-law for donating so that our blood could be used during her surgery, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Any chance you can take to give blood, you should give.”

Lily Grace agrees: “People should come give blood for other little girls and boys like me.”

The Gairhan Dental Care Red Cross Blood Drive will take place at Gairhan Dental Care, located at 460 Southwest Drive, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 23. The Red Cross’ mobile unit will be set up for donations, and Artents will have heated tents set up with snacks and drinks for donors. For more information, call (870) 931-1100.