Katie Grace, home at last

Katie Grace SC00212_edited_for websiteAn afternoon in the park with friends is no big deal for most kids. But, for Katie Grace Groebner, 12, an afternoon at Newhall Park last week was definitely a big deal.  For the first time ever, Katie Grace was running and playing in the park with friends. In June Katie Grace was close to losing her lifelong battle with pulmonary hypertension when a heart and double-lung transplant gave her a new chance. Freed from PH, the plucky youngster now faces a lifetime of new challenges.

For most people a walk in the park is just that – a walk in the park. But for one young Clayton girl, a walk in the park is a marvel of medical science.
Katie Grace Groebner, 12, was born with pulmonary hypertension (PH) an incurable disease that robbed her of any chance for a normal childhood. By the time she was 11; the frail youngster carried a backpack for her medications and fought for every breath. Her heart was so enlarged and damaged that a transplant was her only hope.
In June, hopes were fulfilled when a near-death Katie Grace underwent a life-saving heart and double lung transplant at Stanford Hospital. The surgery marked the end of her PH, but the beginning of a whole new set of challenges for the Groebner clan.
Long road begins
After her surgery in June, Katie Grace spent two weeks in intensive care with her mother constantly at her side, leaving only occasionally for a shower in the hospital’s third floor bathroom. Her recovery was remarkable. Less than three weeks after her transplant, Katie and her family moved to the Ronald McDonald house where she would be close to the hospital for at least three months of intensive outpatient care. It was just the first of three moves the family would make before coming home to Clayton.
Shortly after they moved in, the Ronald McDonald house closed for remodeling and the family moved to a nearby motel where they were surrounded by smokers, a dangerous threat to Katie’s new lungs. There would be yet another move to another motel before they could finally come home only to find that they have to move again. Katie cannot live in horse country.
“We moved here because it was country,” a disappointed Kathy laments. “We love our home. We love the horses and animals.”
But they present a serious health hazard to Katie; one that the family is not willing to risk. Her fragile lungs will forever be vulnerable to the airborne bacteria and hay particles that come with living near livestock.
The family faced this challenge as they have faced countless others before it – head on. Kathy started packing and the family is preparing to sell their home. Their situation is a bit more complicated than normal because they bought the house from the city of Clayton under a special affordable housing contract. They will need to find a buyer that qualifies under the program before they can buy another home.
Until they move, Katie Grace cannot leave her house without a face mask that filters the air.
“People think the transplant solves everything,” Kathy says. “It just changes one set of challenges for another.”
The Groebners are an exceptionally tight, supportive family. Katie’s sister, Savanha, a sophomore at CVCHS has been holding her sister’s hand every step of the way. Although exceptionally strong, Savanha was dealt a blow last month when her close friend, Wyatt Bredell committed suicide.
Finances are always an issue with only one income supporting the family. Travel costs, motel stays, broken cars all strain the family’s tight budget. A strong support system, a deep faith and a sense of humor keep the Groebner family going when many others would cave “We make jokes of things that would make anyone else gag,” she laughs.
It’s been a tough summer, but despite the difficulties, the Groebners all have each other’s backs.
“When I wake up in the morning,” says Kathy, “I ask ‘who did I wake up for today?’” And then she gets up, ready for whoever that might be.
Friends of the Groebners have set up a website to help ease the financial stress on the family. To donate, go to www.gofundme.com/Katies-Dream.