“These kids are in the hospital during the holiday. They want to open gifts on Christmas Day. They want to be with their families. Opening gifts, making it special and having that holiday spirit, gives the kids a little bit of Christmas and provides them a glimmer of happiness.”
So says Ashley Yeary, mother of Sawyer, who spent several days at Arkansas Children’s Hospital (ACH), Little Rock during the holiday at just six months old.
Ashley, a ‘huge Christmas person’ from Fort Smith, Ark., was amazed when she and her husband, Truman, were invited to the hospital’s Snowflake Shop to select toys for Sawyer. “We were completely taken aback. The space was huge and decorated,” Ashley recalls. “They told us, ‘This is free, here’s a bag, go pick out six toys, pick whatever you want.’ We never anticipated that.”
It didn’t stop there. The hospital volunteers wrapped the toys. “It was such a surreal experience,” says Ashley. “It was incredible to see. We still have Sawyer’s toys and have passed them down to his sister. We will keep them forever – they have special meaning for us.”
A Christmas explosion
“If you must be in the hospital over the holidays, everyone [at ACH] is so accommodating. They make sure your child is okay, along with parents and siblings,” Ashley recalls. “They decorate. They give goody bags to the parents. They do everything they can to make it a good experience. It’s like a Christmas explosion.”
“They truly do care. I love how kind and considerate they are. It’s phenomenal. Colors, snacks. Sawyer loves it. They make him comfortable. They’re one-of-a-kind people,” continues Ashley.
Sawyer was born a healthy baby. Four days later, at his check-up, the doctor heard a heart murmur. Over the next several weeks, mom and dad noticed other symptoms including weight loss and congestion. “A lot of things weren’t making sense,” recalls Ashley.
At six months, Sawyer had his first echocardiogram. Thirty minutes after they returned home from that appointment, they received a call. Sawyer had a hole in his heart that wasn’t closing, so Ashley and Truman were told to get their child to the children’s hospital.
Sawyer, at eight pounds, needed help quickly. He had an EKG and another echo. Sawyer had TOF – Tetralogy of Fallot. In total, he had four issues and an additional hole in his heart. Surgery was necessary.
“It was a horrible wait for that surgery. It was incredibly nerve-wracking – knowing your infant has to have his heart operated on,” says Ashley. “It was a very emotional experience. We were first-time parents. There’s no rule book for this. We were completely shocked and terrified – knowing the doctor would be holding your baby’s teeny-tiny heart in his hands. But we knew the children’s hospital was the best.”
The surgery was successful. After five days in the hospital, on Christmas Eve, Sawyer was released to go home. But five weeks after Sawyer’s open-heart surgery, he had RSV, parainfluenza and pneumonia and he spent 10 more days in the hospital.
The three-year-old Sawyer is ‘the most energetic boy ever.’ “He can do everything and more. He just completed his first soccer season,” Ashley smiles. “He’s the sweetest little boy. He loves his family. He’s a daddy’s boy, and he loves to be outside.”
Together, Sawyer and his one-year-old sister, Kennedy, enjoy the toys that Sawyer received in the hospital – a stuffed animal dog that plays songs, a box of shapes, a ring stacker and a case of blocks.
Ashley ensures Sawyer has routine checkups with the cardiologist. “It’s always a ‘hold your breath,’ but Sawyer is doing great,” says Ashley, who writes blogs to help educate parents about congenital heart defects in babies. She notes that congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect.
Additionally, Sawyer is an ambassador for Arkansas Children’s Northwest Hospital, Springdale. He helps raise awareness and money.* “All proceeds go to cardiac surgery because that’s what saved Sawyer’s life. We love to share our story,” notes Ashley. “We are Sawyer’s voice for now, and we hope he will be that voice in the future.”
Toy drives create magic
“You never know when you’re going to need a children’s hospital,” comments Ashley. “We never anticipated any of it. We love everything about Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The support they provide is amazing. They’ll always have such a special place in our hearts. And we’ll do all we can to support them. We want to give back because we’ve been on the receiving end.”
“It’s so great to see the kids open their toys,” Ashley concludes. “It gives them something to look forward to – for that little glimmer of happiness.”
*To donate to Sawyer’s cause, go to Sawyer’s fundraising page, Little Man, Big Heart. Sawyer also designed a headband with a company in Northwest Arkansas. All proceeds go to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Check out Sawyer’s Heart Warrior Headband.
Want to help kids like Sawyer?
Bring a toy (or two or three) to your local America’s Car-Mart. We’ll take it from there. In December, our Car-Mart associates will deliver the toys to the kids at 25 children’s hospitals in our 12-state area. Learn more about our Holiday Toy Drive.