That’s the nickname Gracie’s grandmother has given to the sunny, precocious seven-year-old with bouncy blonde curls.
At birth, doctors thought Gracie would not survive because of a serious heart defect. To correct it, Gracie underwent several complex surgeries. Unfortunately, during one of the surgeries, she experienced a spinal cord stroke that left her legs paralyzed. She was only four months old.
Following surgery, Gracie was referred to Kennedy Krieger for rehabilitation to strengthen her body. There, a team in the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury developed her treatment plan. They began by helping Gracie sit up. Janet Dean, pediatric nurse practitioner in the Center, guided Gracie’s care.
Gracie celebrated her first birthday at Kennedy Krieger, where the staff threw her a party. They treated her like family. Gracie got her first wheelchair when she was 18 months old, which allowed her to keep up with her three older brothers. She also learned how to skootch along on her bottom to move around.
“She could really go fast,” her mother, Melissa, said.
In addition to the physical therapy to strengthen her body, she received electrical stimulation to help restore nerve function in her legs. Gracie was eventually able to wiggle her toes. Then she could move her ankles and feet. Gradually, she was able to bear weight on her legs while holding onto furniture. Her physical therapist, Dia Wallace, moved her legs until Gracie could do it on her own.
Her therapists were convinced that Gracie was capable of much more, so they continued therapies to strengthen her legs and core. When she was three, Gracie got her first walker.
“When she took her first steps with the walker, everyone in the room was in tears,” said her mom.
Today, Gracie is a second-grader. She still relies on a wheelchair most of the time, but she can walk short distances with her walker on level surfaces. She joins other children outside at recess. Gracie even gets down on the floor for activities at school. She goes camping, fishing and swimming with her family, and is taking horseback riding lessons.
To Gracie, there are no limits.
Every time someone told her she couldn’t do something, she did it,” Melissa said. She added, “Gracie says, ‘This isn’t hard. Try having your heart operated on.’
Gracie continues regular therapy sessions at Kennedy Krieger to work on her next milestones.
For her mom, this means getting up at 4 a.m. to ready Gracie, drive to Kennedy Krieger from their home on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, then return home that evening once her therapy session is over.
There is no place near them that offers the specialized treatment that Kennedy Krieger provides, Melissa said. She credits the entire Kennedy Krieger team with the progress Gracie has made, but like her daughter, Melissa has big dreams.
“Our dream is to see Gracie walk across the stage at graduation,” says her mother.
Thanks to the team at Kennedy Krieger, Gracie’s determined attitude, and support from generous donors like you, that may very well happen.