On the outside, Bullard resident Kaylee Graves is a typical 9-year-old.
She’s a warm, caring little girl, her mother said, who was mad she wasn’t allowed to go swimming Monday.
Inside, though, Kaylee suffers from a heart defect that put her in an operating room at 9 months old.
“When she was born, she was born with Tetralogy of Fallot,” Trisha Graves, Kaylee’s mother, said. “They diagnosed it when she was just a couple of days old.”
Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital heart defect that causes holes in the heart, according to the National Health Institute. It is a rare condition, but the most common condition of a specific set of heart diseases, according to an article on the National Institute of Health’s website.
The repairs, which cost the family more than $8,000 out of pocket, were expected to last until Kaylee was in her late teens or early twenties.
In March, though, the 9-year-old began having chest pains and a visit to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas revealed that another surgery would be required before then, Mrs. Graves said. It’s set for May 16 at Medical City in Dallas, she said.
Mrs. Graves works full time as a nurse and is insured, but the cost of the operations is high. Her husband, Mike, was disabled when he was hit by a drunk driver a few years ago, she said, so he stays home to take care of their daughter while she works.
Mrs. Graves’ working status and insurance means their family doesn’t qualify for aid to pay for the open heart surgery Kaylee needs to fix her heart, which will cost an additional $5,000 just for the operation.
And that’s where community members such as Marinda Nguyen come in.
Mrs. Nguyen, whose family owns Texas Vessel and Fabrication in Jacksonville, knows the Graves family through the school Kaylee’s siblings and the Nguyen children attend, she said.
Since they found out about Kaylee’s condition, they’ve been constantly raising money to help the family out by selling snacks and goods at their business in the afternoon.
“We have had a tremendous amount of generosity and thoughtfulness,” she said. “It really makes me feel good to know that we have some really good people working for us. They’ve dug into their own pocket, not just to buy a soda, not just to buy a snack, but to give extra.”
Mrs. Graves said that often she and her family aren’t even aware of the fundraisers put on by Mrs. Nguyen and others in East Texas.
“We’ll go check our account and realize there’s another couple of hundred dollars in there,” she said. “It’s really been overwhelming.”
And Mrs. Nguyen said they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
Ideally, they hope to raise at least $1,000 a week to help the Graves family.
She said she’s open to ideas or organizations they could contact to help raise awareness and money about Kaylee and her heart.
“If you find out something that can be done or some place for me to contact, I want to know about it,” she said.
It’s that kind of reaction, Mrs. Graves said, that has really shocked her and her family since they moved to Bullard two years ago.
She said that continuously communities around East Texas have poured out their support to help them.
Mrs. Nguyen said that’s just the way it ought to be when it comes to a community.
“I just think that in times like these when people are stuck in the middle, they don’t qualify for help, there’s not enough money to pay for it, this is the time when the community should step in and do something,” she said. “I think to see a community come together and help one of their own whose stuck in the middle is exemplary.”
Mrs. Graves said the open-heart surgery later this month is important in saving Kaylee’s life, but it won’t be a fix-all solution.
A leaking pulmonary valve, which is used to pump blood to the lungs is causing one of Kaylee’s ventricles to constrict, Trisha said. To fix the problem, doctors said they need to put in an artificial replacement, she said.
“They said those do deteriorate over time, so probably in another eight to 10 years, they’ll have to put another one in,” she said.
That doesn’t deter Mrs. Nguyen, who has no plans of stopping her efforts after the May operation.
“We’re going to do something and we’re going to it as much as we can as long as we can,” she said.
Donations to help the Graves can be made at any Austin Bank location in the name of Mike or Trisha Graves.
Mrs. Nguyen said she’s willing to pick up checks made out to the family and is open to suggestions for other events and benefits to help Kaylee. She can be contacted at Texas Vessel and Fabrication at 903-541-4883.