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Turning loss into hope

Jaclyn Doffin holding Sophia and Tony Doffin holding Grace and Tyler. (Submitted photo)

Family hosts community fundraiser, creates a pediatric heart research fund in daughter’s memory

When Jaclyn and Tony Doffin found out that they were having triplets, they got busy planning for their new life with three infants. One of the triplets was diagnosed with a heart condition prior to birth, but the family never anticipated the devastating complications that their baby would have as a result.

When the triplets, Tyler, Sophia, and Grace, were born on September 8, 2008, doctors quickly determined that Grace had a more severe case of hypoplastic right heart syndrome than originally thought. “She was born with three [heart] chambers,” explains Tony. “She was missing the one that pumped [blood] to the lungs.”

In her first few months of life, Grace had two heart surgeries at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, and she spent more than two months in the neonatal intensive care unit—most of that time on a ventilator. She went home before Thanksgiving, but while awaiting her third heart surgery, Grace died unexpectedly on July 7, 2009.

Compelled to create some good out of their tragic loss, the Doffins created the Grace Doffin Pediatric Heart Research Fund through the Minnesota Medical Foundation to benefit pediatric heart research at the University of Minnesota. They raised money for the fund through a community fundraiser they organized called Hope in Grace.

“You can do something good with it. Life is what you make of it,” Jaclyn explains.

Superior care at the University

The Doffins say that the high level of care Grace received at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital inspire them to give back to the University. “We had great experiences with the doctors and nurses,” says Jaclyn.

Their situation was particularly complex, she explains, because they had two babies at home while Grace was still in the hospital—resulting in many trips back and forth between the hospital and their home in Blaine, Minnesota.

“It was very hard to not be able to be by Grace’s side constantly,” Jaclyn says. “We found out that a lot of nurses and staff members were coming in to hold Grace when we couldn’t be there. That was really awesome.”

Helping babies like Grace

In the fall of 2009, the Doffins started planning the first Hope in Grace Family Fun Run, which took place in their Blaine neighborhood in April 2010. “This was an opportunity for other people with healthy children to give back,” Jaclyn says.

And give back they did.

The run and silent auction drew more than 300 participants and 50 volunteers, and far exceeded the Doffins’ expectations—raising $17,000 for the Grace Doffin Pediatric Heart Research Fund. “It was really great to see neighbors afterwards wearing the T-shirts with Grace’s name on them,” Jaclyn recalls.

The run’s success has encouraged the Doffins to make it an annual event. They recently gained nonprofit status for their Hope in Grace organization and are preparing for the next run, set for April 16, 2011. That will be a busy time for the Doffins, who are expecting twins in June.

Tony says that he’s hopeful that the money raised will help others like Grace. “Maybe with research they could find a fix for it,” he says of Grace’s condition.

Adds Jaclyn, “If it helps even one child that would be rewarding.”

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