Sarah Bates, loan coordinator
The Graf family
Diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth, Lilli was born with a hole in her heart and spent the first 19 days of her life in the hospital. Months later, doctors inserted a gastrostomy tube for nutrition and eventually performed heart surgery when Lilli was just 6 months old.
“She ended up with pneumonia and a collapsed lung,” says Lilli’s mom, Krista Graf. “We thought we were going to lose her at one point. Then, in February, she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).”
Lilli spent the next 5 months in and out of the hospital.
“Right now, she’s considered to be in remission,” Krista says. “She’s still at high risk for it coming back in the next year, but we’re pretty hopeful that she’ll be cancer-free, and we’ll be able to celebrate her life every day with her.”
With their sons playing Little League baseball together, Sarah Bates got to know Krista and learned of Lilli’s difficult journey.
“I knew right away that I wanted to give my money to them,” says the loan coordinator. “It just breaks my heart that a little girl has to fight so hard for the few years that she’s been alive. She’s just a ray of sunshine, and I wish more people were actually like Lilli – being infectious with kindness.”
Sarah surprised Krista at a baseball game, handing her a check with the Pay It Forward money.
“I did not expect that at all,” Krista says. “Moments like that just make you feel not so alone – make you feel like there’s people out there rooting for you, fighting for you on days that you feel like you can’t.”
“When you’re in the hospital for that long of time, you kind of feel like you’re a little bit on your own,” adds Doug Graf, Lilli’s dad. “These special surprises and special gifts from others – it really lifts spirits. It brings joy and happiness to the family.”
Like many, Lilli’s parents are proud of how strong she’s been throughout it all and her ability to smile and bring joy to everyone around her.
“I love sharing Lilli’s story. There’s difficult times and we’re not out of the woods, but being that super hero – that’s just a perfect name for her,” Krista says. “She shows us what life should really be about, and that’s more than we could ever ask for, watching her just be remarkable, be a warrior.”