Friends, neighbors step up to help struggling family

Avondale mother thankful for community support in wake of daughter’s illness

By Susanna P. Barton
Resident Community News

Michelle Smith became a widower 12 years ago, but is facing one of the biggest hurdles of her life this fall. Smith, an Avondale contract nurse and mother of three, received news in early October that her 14-year-old daughter Gracey has Type D acute lymphoma leukemia.
The diagnosis has put Michelle on a new track. Days once filled by sporting events, school and a daily nursing job, are now replaced by aggressive chemotherapy treatments, blood tests and hospital visits.
But she and her family are not fighting alone. In an incredible show of support and solidarity, a slew of friends and family from the neighborhood, athletic community and school have stepped in to bolster the Smith family through this difficult time. Venetia Athletic Club Director Sara Brackin has helped guide residents to a special fund that has been set up in the family’s name at Florida Bank on San Juan Avenue. Other friends have scheduled a meal delivery system for the days when Michelle and Gracey are at chemotherapy treatments. More help, however, is needed to sustain the family through the illness.
“People have been wonderful – they have helped us in so many ways, I couldn’t begin to tell you about all of them,” Michelle said. “When Gracey became sick, my whole devotion turned toward making her better. After 28 days the doctors will decide what the course of treatment will be and then maybe I can go to work part time.”
Michelle described Gracey’s illness. In early October Gracey became sick with flu-like symptoms. The athletic 14-year-old, who was attending Sandalwood High School but had been the main pitcher for her school at Lakeshore Middle School, was becoming tired and lightheaded and complained of body aches. Doctors first suggested to Michelle that a few days rest was all Gracey needed to recover. But when jaundice set in, Michelle rushed Gracey to the emergency room. And several hours later, the doctors at Wolfson Children’s Hospital made the grim diagnosis. Because Gracey is over the age of 10, she is at a higher risk – so ensuing chemotherapy treatments have been aggressive and persistent. Twice a week she goes in for treatment.
Michelle said while she is responding well to treatment and is not nauseous like many patients, she has side effects of low blood sugar and has received numerous platelet transfusions. Michelle said she finds solace texting her friends, but cannot have many visitors because they want to keep any additional germs at bay.
The Smith family’s story has resonated deeply with the local athletic community. Both Gracey and her brother “Bubba” have been active in Navy Ortega League Baseball, Riverside Presbyterian Church basketball and have attended Lakeshore Middle School.
“Many families have already helped, but many others have asked what they could do or how they can help,” said Venetia Athletic Club’s Brackin in an email that has been forwarded to residents throughout the neighborhood in recent weeks. “The family is in need of funds to pay for living from day to day. They have applied for the Jay Fund but until then, they need our help.”
A donation/savings account for Gracey Smith has been established at Florida Bank, located at 4211 San Juan Avenue. The direct phone number for making donations or asking questions is (904) 562-6000. The family also is in the process of setting up an account in Gracey’s name at the local blood bank.

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