'We don't walk through this life alone': About 200 attend fund-raiser for tot who needs new heart

Top photo: Debbie Sandwith, wearing
Top photo: Debbie Sandwith, wearing 'I Believe in Miracles' shirt, chats with Phil and Nancy Schober of Westcott Bay at the fund-raiser for Sophia Grace Krieg, April 9 in the Roche Harbor Pavilion. On Sandwith's left is Sophia's mom, Lacen. Second photo: 'We don't walk through this life alone,' Sandwith said, after introducing a man who was treated for the same heart condition as Sophia, her grand-niece. Third photo: John Krieg, Sophia's grandfather, celebrates his winning bid of $250 for a Pepsi machine, donated by Chris Howard of Walton Beverage. In the background is a slideshow photo of his granddaughter. Fourth photo: Kelle Wilson calls Stacy Brem to check the number of bedrooms in her Scottsdale, Ariz. condo, for which she donated a week's stay as a live-auction item. Reviewing the donation file is Cindy Radden.
— image credit: Richard Walker

It was a great party.

A good ol' fashioned island spaghetti feed. Lots of great items to bid on. Camaraderie was high. Humor and laughter were abundant. And the house was full, with about 200 people.

The guest of honor could not be there. But someday, she will know about this party; it's as much a part of her history as the health issue that prevented her from attending. And someday, she will thank each and every person who attended this event -- not with words, but with her life. Seeing her as an adult, perhaps with children of her own, pursuing her life's dreams as a happy, healthy young woman; that will be the reward.

The guest of honor, Sophia Grace Krieg, is seven months old. She couldn't attend the fund-raiser held on her behalf April 9 at Roche Harbor Pavilion because she is waiting at Children's Hospital for a new heart.

Sophia's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and other relatives and friends attended the fund-raiser, wearing "I Believe in Miracles" T-shirts. Her mom, Lacen Krieg, wore a hospital pager; the family was on call with Kenmore Air in the event a heart became available.

"It's really amazing how this community comes together for people," Sophia's dad, Ben Krieg, said. He and his wife grew up on San Juan Island but now live in Mount Vernon. “We don’t live here anymore, but we are still islanders.”

Sophia Grace was born Sept. 9, 2009. At 11 weeks, she was rushed to Children’s Hospital and it was discovered she had an enlarged heart, later diagnosed as Pediatric Dilated Cardiomyopathy.

After a month’s stay at Children’s, she was released before the holidays on medication therapy, but her heart did not respond and she was re-hospitalized the first week of February. She was officially put on the list of heart transplant recipients Feb. 28. She and her parents will remain there until she receives a new heart.

Relatives say Sophia is otherwise a normal, happy, playful child. “She’s expressive and she has a great personality,” grand-aunt Sharon Potter said. “You can’t help but love her. She’s a very happy child.”

Sophia’s parents – mom Lacen, a nurse, and dad Ben, training to be a phlebotomist – said it could take six months for a heart to become available. The heart will come from a child who has died, whose parents authorized the gift of the heart to another child.

“The parent that allows the donation is the real hero,” Ben said.

Children’s is paying for the daily hospital care and the transplant. Roche Harbor’s event will help the family pay their out-of-pocket expenses, but was more about buoying Sophia and her parents with love and support.

“We don’t walk through this life alone,” grand-aunt Debbie Sandwith said during the live auction, after introducing a man who had been treated for the same heart condition as her little niece. He and his wife called Sandwith after reading about Sophia in The Journal.

A slideshow of photos showed Sophia always smiling, always being hugged, always wearing something cute, like a headband with a big flower or an outfit that said “I Love My Daddy.”

On a message board, attendees wrote well wishes. Chelsea Campbell, a young friend of Sophia’s, wrote, “I love you Fifibug.”

From 5-6:30 p.m., the swelling crowd reviewed 70 silent-auction items, many of them handmade. Among the items: Pet massages by Sam Banry, wool socks by Carol Herbert, earrings by Rhonda Shepard, a lap quilt by Barbara Snider, homemade desserts by Nancy Vejvoda. There were barbecue baskets, dog goodie baskets, tea gift baskets, and handmade cards and gift bags.

The silent auction was scheduled to end at 6:30 p.m., but it was extended to accommodate people coming in the door. It didn’t end until 7:05.

Sandwith worked the live auction. She joked with the audience. She poked fun at herself. She made sure family members bid. And if she didn’t know the answer, she wasn’t afraid to ask. When someone asked about the number of bedrooms in George and Stacy Brem’s Scottsdale, Ariz., condo, offered for a one-week stay, she had Kelle Wilson call Stacy Brem long-distance to find out.

All told, there were 12 live-auction items, valued at $9,015. Items included personal care services, vacation getaways, outdoor excursions, barbecue and wine tasting. Walton Beverage donated two Pepsi machines. MEM Enterprises donated $1,000 worth of excavation, gravel or towing. San Juan Propane donated a handsome deluxe deck propane heater.

It was another event that seemed to symbolize the culture of this community -- a community once described by a local writer as living on a ship at sea. “When you live in a small town, you know people and you have empathy for them,” event volunteer Kelle Wilson said.

Korinne Megard, Sophia’s grandmother, added, “Once you’re part of the island, you never leave.”

You can follow Sophia’s progress on the Caring Bridge Web site. A trust fund has been established at Whidbey Island Bank, P.O. Box 1937, Friday Harbor 98250. And you can call Sandwith at 378-5562.

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