In Memory of Anna Grace Farmer
Anna Grace is Clayton and Tonya’s daughter who fought a courageous and impactful battle with congenital heart disease that lasted eight and half months. Yet, Clayton and Tonya knew it was fight that would take place long before she was born.
When Tonya, who was expecting twins, had a sonogram at 17 weeks, the technician noticed something wasn’t right. She notified the doctor who then looked at the images. The doctor recommended they see a specialist who later confirmed the technician’s suspicions and Clayton’s and Tonya’s fears that Anna Grace indeed had a heart defect. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, congenital heart disease affects one in 120 babies born in the United States making heart defects the most common of birth defects.
Clayton and Tonya were determined to do everything possible to enhance Anna Grace’s chances for survival. They did their research, and they learned the best place for birth defects to be treated was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A month or so before Tonya’s labor day, she and Clayton left rural Mississippi on Labor Day Weekend. Joined by Tonya’s parents, they made the approximate 11-hundred-mile drive to the “City of Brotherly Love” where they stayed in an apartment.
Tonya and the twins were monitored with multiple tests each week until they were born on October 7, 2003. They went full term, 39 weeks. Tonya had a C-section. Wallace weighed a healthy six pounds/10 ounces while Anna Grace was delivered at four pounds/13 ounces.
“A bruiser and a little angel. She looked just like her dad. She had the biggest brown eyes,” Tonya described. “She could look at me with those big brown eyes, and it’s like she just looked into my soul. She was so strong.”
Upon delivery, Anna Grace was whisked away immediately to the intensive care unit. Anna Grace had three open-heart surgeries, tubes running in and out of her body, was administered countless medications, and she continued the battle for eight and half months until June 22, 2004.
“It’s not a sad story to me, though. She gave me purpose. I don’t want her story to end. Through her life, I hope to make other lives better,” Tonya declared. “I don’t want her life to be in vain. I don’t want to just spend the rest of my life crying because she’s not here. I don’t want her to be forgotten, because she made me a better person. She made my husband a better person.”
During their visits with countless nurses and doctors, Clayton observed everyone. He watched how his daughter was being treated. He noticed how he and Tonya were spoken to and how each nurse and doctor reacted in every situation. Clayton was subconsciously taking notes on every encountered personality during the most difficult time in their lives.
“That was the beginning of what changed my perception of health care and how important is was,” Clayton recalled. “When Anna Grace passed away. It just completely changed me as a person, redefined my intentions of all my life in general.”
“I think what I gained from her was no matter what life brings you, you can take it. You can make it,” Tonya realized. “If she did in her little body, tiny, four pounds basically, I have no excuses.”
Anna Grace inspired her mother and father to construct a future of helping others. Together, they have passed that inspiration along to everyone that is employed at Farmer’s MedShoppe. As a result, every patient and customer benefits from the utmost in care from The Farmer’s MedShoppe nurse practitioners, pharmacists, administrators, and staff.
“If you’ve ever been to a place in your life where you lost hope, it’s a scary place because when you get to that place, it’s impossible to have faith. Just about every person that walks through those front doors, they’re hurting. They’re either hurting physically, mentally, could be hurting financially. You just never know,” Clayton said. “If we can just give one person hope. I want you to realize how important it is when someone comes in here. It can be just a simple smile or a positive word or just stepping out. Just a hug out of nowhere, just showing people that you really and truly care about them really makes a difference. It’s just who I am.”
“Money is not what defines me,” Clayton continued. “But helping people and being a blessing to others is what defines me. Whenever you can leave at the end of the day and feel like you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, that’s amazing…there’s a difference in the way you feel about your job, about yourself in general. I have a great group of people, and it’s like one big family.”
To help others has become the mission for Clayton and Tonya.
“We’re so calloused by life. We’re so calloused by movies, games, everything. It takes the humanization out of life,” Tonya said. “You see so much darkness that it takes compassion out of life. You see so much. Compassion’s not a very big part of life anymore. Love’s not like it used to be. Caring for your fellow man is not like it used to be. I think we’re so calloused by life that when something happens to you the only way some people wake up is for detriment to happen.”
“With Anna Grace, she changed our lives. For someone to say will you pray for me because my daughter’s not doing well, now that really means something. Because I know what it feels like, number one, to lose a child. It’s the worst thing humanly possible in my opinion. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. It’s something you never get over. Instead of trying to wallow in my detriment, instead of trying to say oh poor pitiful me, why don’t I turn it into something positive and say how can I help someone who maybe has gone through a similar situation. Why can’t I help someone who doesn’t have to go through that situation?”
Clayton and Tonya also are helping parents with adoption through the Anna Grace Farmer Adoption Center in Tupelo. It’s through New Beginnings , an adoption agency Clayton and Tonya support to get children to families who either can’t have children or have a desire to adopt.
There’s a reminder of Anna Grace in her siblings, too. Yes, plural…siblings.
“Her twin brother, Wallace, is amazing, I feel like he got part of her spirit,” Tonya observed of her son who is now 11 years old. “He’s got a heart of gold and is very compassionate. Then, the good Lord gave us a little girl. She’s now eight. Her name is Gracelyn. She is my angel.”
June 22…it’s a day filled with difficult memories and inspiration.