‘Batting’ for Brooklyn’ benefits Shawsville family

The "Batting for Brooklyn" softball tournament raised more than $ 4,300 for the Graves family. Photo by Mike Shaw | The Burgs.

BLACKSBURG — There was a large party at JC Softball field in Blacksburg last Saturday, a party that centered on supporting a 3-month-old girl battling for her life more than 150 miles away.

Before Brooklyn Mae Graves of Shawsville was born, her parents, Donnie and Kristen Graves, knew she would face a tremendous battle at birth.

Kristen Graves said it was during a routine ultrasound at 21 weeks into the pregnancy that doctors could not locate Brooklyn’s stomach. As a precaution, the Graves were sent to UVa for a Level II ultrasound, where doctors discovered Brooklyn had a congenital heart defect. Brooklyn was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot, which results in decreased oxygenation in her  blood.

“Essentially, this means there’s a hole between her left and right ventricle,” Kristen Graves explained.

In addition to the heart defect, doctors determined that Brooklyn also suffered from pulmonary atresia, which hinders blood flow to Brooklyn’s lungs. It was determined that Brooklyn’s best chance of survival was ensuring her birth at UVa.

Brooklyn was born June 15 at the UVa Medical Center in Charlottesville.

When Brooklyn was born, doctors learned of multiple, unexpected problems she would have to deal with. Upon birth, Brooklyn was born with tracheoesophageal fistula, which is a birth defect where the trachea is connected to the esophagus. She also only has one kidney.

If the battle wasn’t already difficult enough, Brooklyn was diagnosed with CHARGE syndrome, Kristen Graves said, which is a genetic condition associated with multiple anomalies, many of which Brooklyn has.

Doctors at UVa told Kristen Graves that Brooklyn wouldn’t be able to see or hear.

Brooklyn has already proved the doctors wrong, Kristen Graves said, passing a hearing test in one ear and close to passing with the other ear. They won’t know the extent of her sight issues until she is older.  Most recently, Brooklyn’s been battling blood clots in both jugular veins, and at the tournament Saturday, Kristen Graves announced one clot had cleared.

Brooklyn will have open heart surgery sometime in December or January to repair the hole in her heart as well as the pulmonary atresia.

As Brooklyn’s battle continues, the Graves have been caught between traveling, working and caring for their daughter. The drive to Charlottesville from the Graves home isn’t a short one.

Donnie Graves works for KIK Custom Products, and Kristen Graves works at Walgreen’s in Christiansburg as a pharmacy manager. Both employers have been great allowing them to have time off to see their daughter, Kristen Graves said.

Christiansburg Walgreen’s Community Leader Adam Stevens, with the help of his wife, Amy, and friend Gary Johansen, organized the “Batting for Brooklyn” softball tournament to benefit the family.

“We’ve gotten to know them and seen all the things they’ve done for other people,” Adam Stevens said. “I watch them give and give, and all of a sudden they come into a situation where they could use some help and they’d never ask for it.”

When Stevens struggled to come up with a way to help, he reached out to Johansen, who has organized several benefit tournaments in Blacksburg.

“We started asking around and would’ve never thought it would turn into this,” Adam Stevens said.

More than 2,000 people were invited to the event, and 15 teams came together to play in the tournament.
Johansen credits social media for making the event as successful as it was.

“The outpouring of support from the community through Facebook was amazing,” Johansen said.

The event turned into a “big party,” featuring a bouncy house, cornhole, concessions and a karaoke machine.
When Donnie and Kristen Graves made a surprise appearance, they were met with hugs and words of encouragement.

Amy Stevens said she hopes participants realize the impact they made and how much it meant to the family.

“They take a lot on day-to-day like being in the hospital with her,” she said. “I just want them to know they’re loved and supported, whether it’s monetary, through a card, through silent prayer or a thought.”

After seeing the community’s response to their situation, Kristen Graves said she was humbled.

“Your love, support and prayers mean more to us than words can express,” she said. “The people in the community have been so kind and amazing through this whole process. We couldn’t do it without your support.”

Johansen hopes the support continues and Brooklyn’s story goes viral to help raise awareness of her condition and what the Graves family is going through.

“We respect and empathize with many families who are going through similar situations as we speak, but this little girl is special to us,” he said.

As of Friday, $ 4,300 had been raised for the Graves family, and a P.O. Box had been set up to receive future donations.

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