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20 Years of Hope: Grace

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In April of 2017, we learned of a lovely 14-year-old named Grace who lived with her mom and siblings on the shores of a remote lake in Uganda. Grace suffered from a rare medical condition in which literally THOUSANDS of small tumors filled her abdomen.

Girl in a green hoodie

Weak and suffering from terrible pain, she lived in isolation with her mother and siblings. Due to her condition, Grace had been forced to drop out of school. We knew we had to do whatever we could to help this bright and beautiful girl find hope and healing.

Ugandan girl with yellow scarf on head

Through an incredible series of events, one of the world’s leading experts in her condition, Dr. Andrea Hayes-Jordan with MD Anderson in Houston, learned of Grace’s story and agreed to fly to Africa to perform the complex surgery. Thanks to our amazing donors, the funds needed for Grace’s surgery were raised in just a few days. This difficult operation needed to take place in the neighboring country of Kenya, so another few little miracles (in this case, a mountain of red tape and paperwork) were needed to get everything in place.

Girl with a green hoodie and a distended belly due to cancer

In the meantime, Grace’s abdomen continued to grow at an alarming rate, making the prospect of her journey more difficult with each passing month. We wanted her to be in the best health possible before undergoing a 10+ hour operation, so while she waited for surgery, we addressed her nutritional needs. Our wonderful community made sure that Grace would receive plenty of fruit, vegetables, and protein.

Ugandan mother and daughter preparing to travel

At last, in early July, it was time for Grace and her mother to make the long and difficult journey to a mission hospital in Nairobi, Kenya. The operation took an unthinkable 24 hours! Doctors first removed the thousands of tumors and then circulated chemotherapy drugs through her abdomen in order to eradicate any non-visible tumors.

It was a very difficult surgery, to say the least, but it was our only hope to save Grace’s life. One of the big unknowns was whether the chemotherapy circulation was able to reach the high temperature required for the procedure, as the Kenyan hospital did not have the very specific equipment used by modern oncology centers.

Girl in hospital bed hooked up to tubes

When she awoke, Grace responded to her mother and recovered surprisingly well at first. Her kidneys took a few days to begin functioning again (she had us very worried!), but after a lengthy post-op recovery period, she had the strength to return to Uganda in September. We all rejoiced to see Grace looking so good!

Girl in an orange t-shirt and pink plaid dress in front of a lake

After Grace returned to Uganda, we were able to send Grace to a quality boarding school — thanks to our generous supporters. We were even able to send her younger siblings, Hudson and Rosemary, to the school as well. Life was good as Grace immersed herself in her studies and worked hard to catch up to other students her age. It wasn’t long before she was ranked at the top of her class!

Ugandan family in colorful clothing

Months after Grace’s homecoming, she noticed some growth and a feeling of pressure in her abdomen. After a number of tests were run, we received the devastating confirmation that the tumors were recurring. Once again, we reached out to experts far and wide for opinions and were ultimately referred to Dr. Wim Ceelen at the university hospital in Ghent, Belgium.

We learned that Dr. Ceelen was one of the best in the world at performing the procedure that Grace needed, but he also told us he wouldn’t put her through such a major operation if he felt she wasn’t a good candidate for the repeat procedure. We waited on pins and needles for his answer. After reviewing her medical file and test results, he accepted her for surgery!

Once again, we reached out to our supporters to raise the funds for Grace’s operation, and once again, those supporters said YES. The donations came pouring in. After another round of red tape and paperwork, this time to get her to Belgium, Grace journeyed to a new hospital in a new country accompanied by her mother and an interpreter who spoke her local dialect.

Young girl standing with doctor in glasses and her mother in a colorful dress

Following an 18-hour surgery, Dr. Ceelen (seen above with Grace and her mother) reported that they were able to fully remove all visible tumors within her abdomen, and then they once again circulated chemotherapy drugs throughout her abdomen. It was almost the same procedure that Grace had gone through in Kenya, but this time doctors were better able to target the smaller number of tumors and keep the chemo drugs at just the right temperature. Dr. Ceelen reported that he was able to remove the breathing tube from her throat when she woke up, and she even took a little apple juice and gave him a smile.

Girl drinking juice box in hospital bed

Grace was able to return home within just a few weeks.

Since this second surgery in 2019, Grace has continued to do well. So far, her current labs give no indication that the tumors have recurred. In addition, we have been able to provide Grace with supplemental nutrition. The heavy, starchy foods common in schools of the region are difficult for her to digest. We have hired a local woman to cook lighter, nutrient-rich foods which she drops off at the school each day. Grace’s labs show that she is well-nourished and has no nutrient deficiencies.

Girl in blue school uniform seated

We have helped Grace continue her education, and she continues to be an excellent student. She especially loves the mental challenges of math and ranked first place out of all the exam scores of the students in her school. Her principal has assured us that Grace can stay as long as it takes for her to graduate. We all want to see her attend a university someday!

Ugandan schoolgirl holding a Rubik's cube standing with her mother

Grace’s healing would never have happened without countless people around the world lifting her up and funding her life-saving medical care, along with her education and nutritional needs. We are so grateful to everyone who gave Grace the gift of HOPE for the future.

Close up of girl in blue school uniform
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