Greeley nonprofit aids parents caring for ill kids | VailDaily.com

Greeley nonprofit aids parents caring for ill kids

MIKE PETERS
The Daily Tribune

Gracie Claborn, 2, gets a cup of juice from her grandfather Dan Doherty on Aug. 5, 2010 at her Greeley, Colo. home. Gracie been undergoing chemo therapy since she was 11-months-old. Claborn's great-grandfather started Gracie's Promise a fund to help families of children dealing with serious illness. (AP Photo/The Daily Tribune, Greeley, Colo., Eric Bellamy)

GREELEY, Colorado – When he talks about his granddaughter, he pauses, apologizes and uses a tissue to stop the tears.

Dan Doherty is a dean at Aims Community College, very formal, very businesslike. Until he talks about Gracie. She is a little more than 2 now and has fought leukemia for more than a year.

Because of her fight, on Doherty’s car and every family vehicle, they carry a decal: “Stupid Cancer.”

All of 2-year-old Gracie’s family has the decal, showing what they think about a disease that has attacked their baby.

When Gracie Claborn was 11 months old, when the family lived in Wyoming, her parents saw she was often grabbing her head and crying. “I took her to the doctor,” said Gracie’s mother, Leslie Claborn, “and they told me it was allergies.”

Then Gracie developed a cough, and her mother took her back to the doctors. “They told me she was fine … then two days later, she stopped breathing.”

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That time, in the emergency room, Gracie stopped breathing again. The room filled with doctors and nurses. They started her breathing again but found a tumor that covered 90 percent of her lungs.

“They set up a flight from Casper to Denver and Children’s Hospital,” Leslie said, “But they thought she wouldn’t make it.”

Leslie’s parents in Greeley, Dan and Helen Doherty, were on their way to Children’s Hospital by car to meet their granddaughter.

While at Children’s, Gracie was diagnosed with leukemia, and the entire family’s life changed. The Claborns moved to Greeley to be near Gracie’s grandparents and closer to Children’s Hospital.

Gracie receives chemotherapy medications every night from her parents. Every four weeks, they go to Children’s Hospital for extensive treatment. She has to take blood pressure and heartburn medications, injections to keep the leukemia from attacking her spine and medications to protect her kidneys.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” Leslie half-jokes, “until you have a 2-year-old on steroids.”

Gracie’s father, Bobby Claborn, works extended hours in oil and gas well testing to pay for the prescriptions and medical care for their daughter. Because Leslie must stay and home with her daughter, she can’t take a job outside the home. She is also home-schooling their 5-year-old daughter, Teagan.

Because of the expenses, the family has started a fund to help others in the same position. Called “Grace’s Promise,” it’s a nonprofit group that helps families with sick children to pay for small expenses.

It was started by Gracie’s great-grandfather, Bud Watson of Torrington, Wyo. He has sold his paintings and printed cards of his wildlife art to raise funds for families with sick children.

Dan Doherty said Gracie’s Promise has helped families with the expenses of prescriptions, gasoline to drive to Children’s Hospital, food and lodging when they need to be with their children away from home.

“The fund has helped six families so far,” Doherty said. And the tears start to come again. “Sometimes I have a hard time talking about it because of Gracie. But Gracie’s Promise is designed to help families.”

Leslie said the illness of her daughter has connected them with people throughout Colorado and Wyoming.

“It’s everywhere,” she said of childhood leukemia. “People come up to us to talk about a family member or their own child. It’s a connection we hadn’t expected.”

The 2-year-old is improving, her mother said. “Her speech is a little behind, but her weight has improved and she’s feeling better. We’re about halfway through the chemo now.”

That means at least another year for the family and Gracie, fighting the “Stupid Cancer.”