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CHS Class of '81 rallies behind classmate

Connersville High School Class of 1981 graduate Von Smith holds his twin sons Grant and Grayson at their home in Louisiana.Smith’s classmates are planning a fundraiser to help the family as a result of Grant’s rare disease and the numerous doctor and hospital visits.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

The son of a member of the Connersville High School Class of 1981 has a son with two very rare diseases. His classmates are rallying to help pay family expenses.

The classmates are inviting Von Smith’s hometown to help. Through social media and word of mouth, the community has responded. The class is also planning a benefit event later this month.

The family lives in the New Orleans area but stays in contact with family and friends here.

Lori Mitchell Hess said Grant Smith, the 7-year-old son of her classmate Von Smith and his wife Crystal has developed polycystic kidney disease and Caroli’s Disease, which affects his liver. It is believed the kidney disease created the liver problem.

Hess attended Grandview Elementary School as well as middle school and high school with Von.

The kidney will form cysts that grow, mature and die, but they leave behind unusable scar tissue, eventually rendering the kidneys useless, she explained. That goes on in the liver as well and eventually, the liver too will become useless.

Apparently, because of his young age, kidney transplants are not recommended since there is a high rejection rate and there are a lack of kidneys available that size. Normally, victims have to wait until their upper teen years to consider transplants, she said. 

Earlier this year during a routine checkup, doctors found that Grant had high blood pressure and upon further investigation, they found the source in his kidneys. Eventually, dialysis will be the only means of sustaining Grant.

“Meanwhile, this family is afflicted with numerous doctors’ visits and hospital stays and whatever will be required to sustain the boy until they can find kidneys,” Hess said. “His twin brother (Grayson) is not affected at all.”

“Grant can’t understand why he has to make frequent trips to the doctor to get poked and prodded while Grayson doesn’t,” Von said in information released by Don Warner, also a 1981 CHS graduate. “Grant is hanging in there like a trooper and has probably adjusted much better to this situation than Crystal or I have. In many ways, he is your typical young boy just wanting to have fun.”

Adding to the issue, Von received severe injuries at work that had him off work for two months. Ultimately, he lost his job, Hess said. That left him without health insurance. He has a new job lined up that will help in the long term, but his injuries will likely require additional treatments that are on hold for his son’s treatment.

When the classmates heard of the situation, they began organizing GrantStrong! 2018, Warner said. The goal is to raise $19,810: the class year times 10.

Hess said a fundraiser will be Saturday, July 28, at the Bever Homestead and Barn, 7474 W. County Road 500-S. The barn is owned by classmate Traci Hill Bever and her family.

The night will include a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. and dinner at 7:30 catered by C&T Catering. The meal will consist of pulled pork, creamy mac and cheese, seasoned green beans, cole slaw, rolls, desserts, lemonade and water.

The cost is $45 a ticket with children 12 and under free. Tickets are available at Riedman Motors, Benchmark Services and Christie Family Dentistry.

Lindsey Flannery and the Abby Howard Band will play during the evening. The musicians and everyone are donating their time.

The community has donated raffle items for a bag raffle. People can buy raffle tickets and then place them in the bag in front of an item so all tickets could go in one bag to increase the chances of winning or spread over several items, Hess said. 

More than 30 local businesses, the Connersville Fire Department, the mayor’s office and family and friends have donated to the cause. Shirts will be available for purchase.

After paying for food and few incidentals, the proceeds will go to the Smith family.

Donations may be made to the Grant Smith Benefit, P.O. Box 87, Connersville, IN 47331. For those who cannot attend or make a donation, the family understands and simply asks that people remember Grant in their prayers.

“The family is in awe that we’ve gotten together to do this because a lot of us haven’t seen each other in 37 years,” Hess said. “I’d love to hear positive news for a change. Grant’s medical problems are profound but what better way to share the load with the Smiths than to rally to help them.”