West Point graduate and retired Army Capt. Barry Ehlers dubbed himself and his wife Julia Team Alpha. His children, Grace and Michael, are Team Bravo. The nicknames are fitting because the family is in a battle for 9-year-old Michael’s life. He has congenital heart disease. Eleven-year-old Grace is especially devoted to the fight.Shortly after his birth, Michael lay in a neonatal intensive care unit with multiple heart conditions. Two-year-old Grace was already her brother’s advocate. At the hospital, she would stand on a chair by his side and try to interpret his whimpers.
As they grew older, she continued to champion her brother’s needs. In a video made last year to raise funds for the American Heart Association through Jump Rope For Heart, she clearly lists his heart ailments, “transposition of the great arteries, hypoplastic aortic arch, two VSD's, one ASD and pulmonary valve stenosis.” “What she said,” was all Michael had to add. So far, she has raised over $4,000 in his name toward heart disease research. Mom Julia says that whether the siblings are jumping on their trampoline, acting in plays together or going to Michael’s medical appointments, their close relationship makes the fight easier.
“I’m just grateful that they are pals,” she says.
Grace also has plans to be part of the solution. “I’m going to be a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon when I grow up,” Grace said during a speechat the Go Red For Women luncheon in Manhattan Beach, California, in May 2016, where again, she sought to raise funds to fight against conditions like her brother’s.
Michael has joined the family’s effort to fight heart disease. He recently participated in his very first Jump Rope For Heart campaign at school. “It was cool,” Michael reports.