Tonya Graham will be the first to admit her son Chase’s start in life was not an ideal one.
At birth, the infant tested positive for a host of drugs including opiates and cocaine, and was immediately placed on ECMO, a life support machine that replaces the function of one’s heart and lungs.
At seven-and-a-half weeks, Chase was placed with Tonya, her husband Josh, and their son Landon through an emergency order of the Department of Children Services.
The Grahams became a family of four two years later when the couple officially adopted the toddler.
By his second birthday, Chase had undergone six surgeries – all at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt where he inspired many of those who worked there with his charm and resiliency.
“Chase is just a child people are naturally drawn to,” said Tonya. “And it wasn’t just that his story was so compelling. He will definitely say silly things and do silly things.”
Now 12, the Union Elementary School student still struggles with health issues that sometimes land him at Vanderbilt including a seizure disorder, a compromised immune system, three airway abnormalities and cerebral palsy.
“Vanderbilt has been a second home to him his whole life,” his mother added.
Because her son has benefitted so much from the care of the hospital’s staff, Graham says it’s always been important for her family to give back to the facility.
Both Chase and Landon have helped raise money for both Vanderbilt and the Children’s Miracle Network. In 2018, Chase was named Vanderbilt’s Champion Ambassador.
Each year the brothers create drawings that are often selected for Christmas cards by the Friends of Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, a volunteer organization that provides support to patients and their families through various fundraising projects.
This year, Delta Dental of Tennessee has chosen the boys’ cards for its annual holiday card campaign. The campaign seeks to raise funds for children’s hospitals across the state while also highlighting the vital role that Child Life programs play in supporting children and their families through their medical experiences.
Through play and education, Certified Child Life Specialists provide friendly, age-appropriate support to children with questions or concerns about an upcoming procedure, test, or appointment. They also support parents seeking guidance for how to talk to their child about their health, or siblings with worries of their own.
“It’s an intimidating environment even for adults, so you can imagine for kids it can be really scary to hear all of the beeping, to see all of the tubes, and to hear a lot of words you don’t understand,” said Katie Beard, a Certified Child Life Specialist at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.
Graham says both of her children have benefited from many of the Child Life programs at the children’s hospital.
“When you have one sick child and one healthy child, your heart is pulled in so many directions,” she said.
The program’s many offerings — like playrooms, therapeutic toys, and even a movie theater – gave her younger son a sense of normalcy and calm, she noted.
For Landon, now a sophomore at Gallatin High School, the program helped him better understand what his brother was going through.
“When Landon was able to be at the hospital, it was important to us that he had things explained to him in a way that was age-appropriate and that wasn’t sensationalized,” said Graham. “Child Life helped us do that.”
“We are so grateful to the Grahams for sharing their story and terrific artwork this holiday season so that more families can benefit from the type of support they have received at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital,” said Dr. Phil Wenk, president and CEO of Delta Dental of Tennessee. “Having a child in the hospital impacts the entire family, but programs like Child Life do so much to support everyone – parents, siblings, and the young patient – both physically and emotionally, making a tough situation just a little bit easier to navigate.”
Delta Dental is committing a collective $140,000 in donations to children’s hospitals across the state through its Christmas card campaign; each of the seven children’s hospitals will receive at least a $10,000 donation, and the remaining $70,000 will be awarded based on public input by December 26.
To learn more about the Grahams and to vote for your favorite Tennessee children’s hospital by December 26, go to https://tennessee.deltadental.com/holiday/.