Community throws benefit for ‘miracle’ baby with rare cancer
With love and support lifting spirits throughout the community, a resident-driven benefit for 3-month-old Vivian Rose Gray was held Oct. 15 at the Planterra Conservatory in West Bloomfield.
“We had such an outpouring of support (for the Gray family) and we were trying to find a way to funnel that energy into an event where people could go and do something, and also contribute to the medical expenses for the family,” said Keith Elementary Principal Phillip Pittman.
The benefit was put on by the team efforts of West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Michele Economou Ursete, the Keith Elementary family and West Bloomfield resident Stellie Cutting.
“I really felt we were going to do a lasagna bake or something … but Michele said, ‘Give me a day or two on that,’ and that was it. Elizabeth is a fantastic teacher, and I felt in my heart that I had to do something for her,” Cutting said.
Baby Vivian is the “miracle” baby of Keith Elementary School teacher Elizabeth Gray and Lawrence Gray. The couple dedicated their time and life savings, first to conceive their daughter — which doctors said would be difficult — and then to pay for her medical treatment.
In late August, the Grays took Vivian to the doctor for a lingering cold, and after multiple tests, doctors found a brain tumor and a rare, aggressive form of cancer called atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. When Vivian was 6 weeks old, doctors removed the brain tumor, and the ATRT has since metastasized down her spine. The Grays were told by their oncologist that about 30 cases of the cancer are diagnosed every year in the country, and the aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell transplant treatment that is possible has not been shown to be successful in infants.
Since her diagnosis, Vivian has undergone six surgeries and at least four blood transfusions, and she began her first round of chemotherapy Oct. 14, which is supposed to last for a year. For now, Elizabeth said it is a waiting game to see if the treatment has any effect.
“I actually got to see Vivian last week, which was really a wonderful experience. … She has quite a bit of machinery hooked up to her, and a trach; however, she never cried … and she had a very pleasant disposition and was just a treasure,” said Pittman.
“It is such a heart-wrenching experience. We’re so thankful to be able to be a part of the positive aspect. It really has brought a community together,” he continued.
Pittman said that the Walled Lake Consolidated School District provided donations and gift cards before hosting the benefit, and the students are also stepping forward.
One example is a fourth-grade student at Keith: Despite not having Elizabeth as a teacher, she hosted a lemonade stand and donated all of the proceeds to the Gray family. She raised approximately $50, Pittman said.
“It is heartwarming that the community is helping one of their own,” Cutting said. “The Walled Lake school district has pulled together, too, and it’s heartwarming to know that the support is there,” Cutting said.
West Bloomfield Township Trustee Steve Kaplan established a fund to assist the Gray family with medical expenses. Those wishing to donate to the family should make checks payable to Vivian Rose Gray Fund — Accountants Unit and sent to John Rofel, 7071 Orchard Lake Road, Suite 315, West Bloomfield, MI 48322.
“It’s just been amazing. It’s totally overwhelming that the Keith family and the West Bloomfield community got together and did this. I’m totally overwhelmed. Vivian is hanging in there,” Elizabeth said.
For day-to-day updates on Vivian, visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/viviangray.