A Mokane 9-year-old is skipping trick-or-treating this year to help raise funds for a baby recovering from open-heart surgery.
On the night of Halloween, Alexis Vaughn will be at 1416 Kingswood Drive in Fulton, selling glow sticks and other light-up accessories for $1 each. She'll start selling at 6 p.m. and keep going until either her glow sticks are gone or trick-or-treaters head home for the night.
Alexis said when she heard about baby Myla Fischer's fight to survive a congenital heart defect, she thought about her own little brother, who also had a medical issue as an infant. Like Myla's parents, Adam and Steffany, her own parents had to drive back and forth between St. Louis and home for her brother's care; like Myla's brother, Grayson, she had to stay behind.
"I think she can kinda relate in that sense she's had to be put on the back-burner before," Alexis' mother, Heather Vaughn, said.
"It was not very fun," Alexis recalled.
But Alexis said her motivation to help out was ultimately simple: "I wanted to feel good by helping someone who needed it and deserved it, instead of trick-or-treating for candy."
Also, she admitted, she's not that big a fan of trick-or-treating.
Alexis was planning on using her Halloween costume budget to purchase glow sticks, but when Heather started telling her friends and acquaintances about the fundraiser, donated glow sticks poured in. Alexis has more than 400 already — the light-up rings are her favorite — and has collected $100 in donations so far.
This isn't Alexis' first time fundraising; she and her classmates at South Callaway Elementary have participated in the American Heart Association's annual Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser, and she's watched her mother raise funds for people in need as well.
"I'm helping people, and it's nice to help people," she said. "I've always felt like that."
Steffany Fischer described Alexis' efforts as "one of the most heartfelt contributions" anyone has made toward her family and Myla's recovery.
"For this young lady with a heart of gold to see this holiday as an opportunity to help out our family rather than going out to enjoy the festivities herself speaks volumes about her character and the way her parents have raised her," she wrote in an email. "She is showing us and the rest of the community what it looks like to be selfless, kind and compassionate. We can only hope to raise our children to be like Alexis."
Miracles for Myla
Heather has known Steffany her whole life — their families are friends.
"Alexis heard about Myla the day Myla was having open-heart surgery," Heather said. "I was refreshing the 'Miracles for Myla' Facebook page every hour."
Born June 30 of this year to Fulton residents Adam and Steffany Fischer, both graduates of Fulton High School, Myla has a congenital condition called "coarctation of the aorta." That's when the aorta, the large blood vessel leading away from the heart, is more narrow than it ought to be. Myla has a severe form of the condition, causing her heart to become enlarged and weak. It became so large, in fact, it pressed on her lungs, restricting her breathing. Her doctors noticed something was wrong when she failed to gain weight between appointments. Testing revealed the problem.
When she was first admitted to the St. Louis Children's Hospital in late August at just two months old, Myla was too ill for the heart surgery necessary to fix her condition. She had to be put on a machine bypassing her heart and lungs. Two days later, surgeons threaded a device through her blood vessels to expand her aorta — a stopgap measure until she recovered enough for open-heart surgery.
Myla's grandmother, Barb DeVille, launched a Facebook page, "Miracles for Myla," to share updates about Myla's journey. The page quickly became a hub of prayers and fundraising efforts, and as of Friday, had been "liked" by 736 individuals.
On Sept. 3, Myla's doctors decided she was well enough to be taken off the bypass machine, though she stayed on a ventilator until Sept. 12. Slowly, she gained weight and smiled more, though her heart function went through ups and downs and she struggled while weaning off medications.
Finally, on Oct. 7, she went in for her surgery. Surgeons removed the narrowest section of her aorta, and she began the slow process of recovery again. Early signs indicate she won't need a heart transplant, something her doctors feared might be necessary.
"The way this surgery went today seems to have to be about the best way we could have hoped," Adam wrote on Facebook. "That being said, we are still in the process of making sure her heart will be able to keep up. We are incredibly excited about today's results, but if I have learned anything since we've been here, it's that things can change in the blink of an eye."
Steffany gave an update in an email Friday.
"She has been irritable off and on post-op, but we think she is starting to feel better," Steffany wrote. "It has been a juggling act to keep her blood pressure where they want it, along with making sure they have her other blood gas and electrolyte levels where they need to be. Overall, we feel we are on the right track."
Myla's older brother Grayson, 5, has been staying with his grandparents — due to Myla's intense medical care needs, he and Steffany recently went six weeks without seeing each other.
"We're all just pinch-hitting," DeVille said.
Steffany said she's not yet sure what Myla's medical expenses will look like. The family does have health insurance, but as of Friday, Myla had spent 50 days in the cardiac ICU and endured four medical procedures and countless tests.
"We are trying to not think about money at this time," she said. "We just want to bring home a healthy little girl, but we know we have our deductible and out of pocket expenses, and not knowing the extent of the bills racking up and what our coverage limits will be is obviously still in the back of our mind.
Other opportunities to support Myla and her family include:
A drive-thru lunch at noon today at Central Christian Church (4670 Route KK, Fulton). There's no set cost for the meal, which includes pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw and a choice of apple, cherry or peach cobbler; donations are encouraged.
A cornhole tournament hosted by the Fulton Jaycees (7217 Route C, Fulton) at 3 p.m. Saturday. Preregister by contacting DeVille at 573-544-7198 or register day-of; entry costs $40 per team. Refreshments will be on sale, and the evening will also feature karaoke, a 50/50 drawing and raffles.
A benefit meal at the Fulton VFW (505 Collier Lane), 4:30-9 p.m. Nov. 20. This event will also feature an auction and raffle; to donate items for either, contact DeVille.
T-shirts, hoodies and window decals are for sale on the Miracles for Myla page.
Steffany said when it first became clear Myla was unwell, she asked only for prayers. The family was met not only with prayers — "Myla has been added to prayer lists in churches we have never even attended" — but with donations and kindness from community members they've never even met.
"We would not in a million years have thought that so many people in our community could care so much for our little girl and our family," Steffany wrote. "Growing up, we always thought we wanted to get out of Fulton. After college, we ended up finding our jobs back in this area and could not be more happy that we landed back in this community."
To follow Myla's story, visit the Miracles for Myla Facebook page.
This article was edited at 2:45 p.m. Oct. 19, 2020, to correct the date of the benefit planned for the Fischer family.