WALKERTON — Eleven-year-old Grace Tibbs is like most girls her age. She is quiet, smiles a lot, is active in 4-H even winning the Farmer’s Exchange Outstanding 4-H’er award, participates on the spell bowl team at school, and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.
However, she is very different than many girls her age. She has endured more than 40 hours of brain surgery since last year for pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumors. Her story is remarkable.
The details of what happened to Grace last year are still vivid to Grace and her family. It is how her story began.
On May 26, 2012 Grace was at a 4-H Horse and Pony fun ride. The next day she played a soccer game. Later that afternoon she went to Greenwood, Ind. with her family to visit her grandparents.
While there she rode her grandfather’s riding lawn mower and complained to her mother, Janet, that she felt tingly and had a headache. That night she crawled into bed with her parents. She was feeling slightly better in the morning.
The next day as the family began the drive back to Walkerton, Grace’s headache had returned and she was vomiting. Her parents decided it was best to stop at the emergency room in Plymouth.
By time they checked in Grace was in a state of confusion and had difficulty remembering simple things such as her birthday. The staff at Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center performed a Computed Tomography (CT) scan. They discovered a large tumor on Grace’s brain. From there things happened very quickly.
A Life Line helicopter was brought in to transfer Grace to Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. While on the helicopter, Grace remembers one of the staff members asking her if she wanted to look out the window. She did, and “it looked really cool.” Then she fell back to sleep. Her parents had to drive to Riley’s all the while waiting for their cell phone to ring with bad news from the helicopter. They arrived about 25 minutes after the helicopter.
The staff of Riley’s performed emergency brain surgery to place a drain in Grace’s brain to relieve the pressure, it lasted for five hours.
On May 30th Grace had her second surgery to remove not just one large tumor but also nine other tumors. This surgery lasted more than 17 hours. She was under 24-hour care, unable to set up or move without help. Grace had a third surgery lasting seven hours to remove an 11th tumor.
The staff at Riley’s hospital offered Grace more than just medical care. Grace had with her Beary, a stuffed bear that her father had given her on her first Valentine’s Day. Janet describes that after each surgery Beary would come back with Grace, with matching bandages.
On June 14 Grace and her family returned home. Their joy was short lived when complications occurred just a few days later. The family went back to Riley’s for additional surgeries including vision surgery to correct double vision problems. So far Grace has had over 40 hours of surgery with one more vision surgery scheduled. She will need to have a yearly MRI to make sure the tumors do not return.
While at Riley’s hospital, Grace was still thinking about her 4-H projects.
“4-H gave her something to fight for,” Janet said. “She asked everyday if she was going to be able to show her animals and if she was going to
be able to ride her horse.”
In July the Marshall County 4-H Fair began, and Grace was determined to be a part of it. She completed three livestock projects and five building projects, in a wheel chair. She was in the Riders with Disabilities class for horse and pony, and had some help showing her heifer, Missy. She was able to show her rabbits unassisted.
This year Grace is enrolled in seven 4-H projects including showing Missy again in the beef category. She will also show her horse, Turbo, in the Riders with Disabilities horse and pony category. She still has a lot of restriction on her riding but that does not stop her from doing everything that she can. Grace will also show her mini-lop rabbit, Easter.
Missy the heifer is Grace’s favorite part of 4-H. Grace’s describes Missy as, “calm and gentle. She just does whatever I want her to.”
The pair will be going to the State Fair together as well.
Morgan Tibbs, Grace’s nine-year-old sister, also participates in 4-H in the beef, horse and pony, and domestic short hair cat category. Morgan describes Grace’s experience as “scary.”
When she visited her sister at the hospital Morgan, “made up a crazy silly dance to make Grace laugh.”
Even though Grace doesn’t remember it, Janet remembers that Grace laughed at her sister’s dance.
Amy Weiss, Grace’s 4th grade teacher at North Liberty Elementary, organized a fundraiser for the Tibbs family.
Brad Tibbs, Grace’s father, said, “It’s amazing how the whole community has come out to support Grace. It’s been neat to see the whole community come together.”
“Everybody has been so supportive,” Janet said. “Everybody wants to see Grace do well and succeed.”
Grace plans on being a horse trainer or a doctor when she grows up. She also wants to write a children’s book about her experience to help other kids going through similar things. Last year Grace won three awards in 4-H. One for each of the livestock categories she entered including best of breed for Easter, the mini-lop rabbit.
Brad and Janet both participated in 4-H and now enjoy sharing the experiences with their children.
Grace and Morgan also have a little brother, Lane who is four years old. The children help take care of all the animals with their parents’ assistance.
Grace has remained dedicated to her 4-H projects and schoolwork through all the doctor visits. She has a positive outlook on life and loves the time spent with her family during 4-H season.
(This feature story was published in the July 8 edition of The Pilot News.)