By: Brittany Bevis
Some days, you get home from work, still need to make dinner and do the laundry, and you just don’t feel like going out to the barn to ride. But, you have the choice, while many others do not.
If given the opportunity, 8-year-old Everleigh Pierce would be at the barn all day every day. Sadly, that’s just not an option for this horse-loving kiddo. You see, Everleigh suffers from Pulmonary Hypertension. She has a rare defect in her heart that creates tension in her pulmonary arteries, so her lungs, and the rest of her body, don’t get the oxygenated blood they need. As a result, Everleigh becomes tired and breathless when doing everyday tasks. But that hasn’t stopped this little fighter from heading to the barn every chance she gets to do what she loves.
Lindsay Hayes-Cofell of London, Ontario has given Everleigh riding lessons over the past couple of months and has spearheaded a fundraising effort to help Everleigh’s family pay for her mounting medical bills.
“I got to know Everleigh through a student of mine,” Lindsay says. “Her mother, Leanne, is a good friend of Everleigh’s mom, Kerry. Leanne often would help out and bring Everleigh to doctors appointments and to the odd riding lesson to see the horses.”
However, due to the fact that Everleigh must wear an oxygen tank and take IV medication at all times, figuring out how to help her groom, saddle, and ride horses has been somewhat of a challenge. “She has a medical disability, but Everleigh doesn’t have any intellectual or cognitive disability. She has learned to ride, as any child would, but she wears an oxygen tank and takes IV meds all the time. Her family and team of doctors are supportive of her riding, so we have been taking her off the oxygen to ride for 30-50 minutes at a time depending on how she’s feeling. She does have full time nursing staff who carry the oxygen tank in a backpack and help administer meds and check her vitals frequently. Sometimes, I wear the backpack, and we’ll hook her back up for a little rest on the horse. My horses have been amazing with all the tubing, which has allowed Everleigh to be really independent when she’s grooming, saddling, and riding.”
Despite the daily challenges, Lindsay says Everleigh simply loves coming to the barn to be around the horses. “She loves being at the barn and visiting the different horses. She loves having her hands on them and kissing their noses. She loves riding. She says she wants to have her own horses and fix up an old barn for them to live in with her friend, Hayley.”
“Everleigh is all of us. She’s the 8-year-old horse lover who just wants to absorb every moment with the horses. She just wants to be a normal kid and do the things she loves doing.”
Sadly, Everleigh’s body has stopped responding to certain medications, and she’s now in desperate need of a double lung transplant. “Her heart is tired and her body is no longer responding to the medications, so her time with us is coming to an end. The double lung transplant will not be curative, but it will offer some relief of her symptoms and may give her a little extra time. The best case scenario, if she gets the lungs before her health deteriorates, survives surgery, and recovers, would be seven years.”
While some of Everleigh’s expenses are covered by health insurance, many are not, and her family must pay out of pocket. For example, their water bill is $900 a month due to Everleigh’s oxygen machines. “There are medications that are not covered under her drug plan that her parents, Craig and Kerry, have paid for out of pocket. There are therapies and nursing staff and adaptations to their homes and vehicles. Those needs are going to change, and the costs are going to increase once Everleigh gets her gift of life with her new lungs.”
Recently, Everleigh’s trips to the barn have come to an end, and she spent her birthday battling pneumonia and influenza in the hospital. She’s been experiencing high fevers, chest pain, high heart rate, and low white blood cell count, as well as the usual symptoms of Pulmonary Hypertension. As a result, it was decided that Everleigh and her mother should live at the Ronald McDonald House in Toronto while they wait for a match for her lungs, which is causing even more strain on the family.
“They’ve been uprooted from the rest of their family and everything that’s familiar to them on the farm to live downtown in the city for an unknown length of time.”
So what can Everleigh’s friends do to help this young child facing a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle? While Lindsay’s involvement with Everleigh first started with an offer of riding lessons has blossomed into a fundraiser that has helped to raise $25,000 for her family.
“There were so many people who heard about her story, so we decided to sell some t-shirts for a minimum donation of $25. The t-shirts have now generated over $25,000 for the Pierce family, and horse people are wearing them at all types of events: cutting, penning, sorting, reining, club shows, trail rides, fun runs, cheerleading competitions, barrel races, weekly lessons, etc.”
“People can help by making a donation on our online shop for the amount of their choice. They can help by wearing their shirt and sharing Everleigh’s story with friends who may also like to contribute to help ease the financial burden of the extraordinary costs the Pierce family has incurred.”
The funds raised will assist the Pierce family with paying for costly medication and therapies, travel to and from the hospital, adaptations to their home, and much more. While in the hospital, Everleigh received a little gift for her birthday from her generous friends at the barn. Her very own pair of spurs!
“I’ve known Everleigh for a few months and let me tell you, NOTHING will hold that young woman down. She’s as determined as ever to ride and enjoy the fresh air. She loves laughing at the horses and their idiosyncrasies. She loves smelling them, snuggling them, and feeding them treats. She’s determined to learn how to be a great rider.”
“Through the skilled professionals at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Everleigh has learned about her condition and is coming to terms with her shortened lifespan. This double lung transplant will allow her to be free of her oxygen tank and tubing and may allow her to go swimming for the first time. Essentially, it’s going to allow her to be a normal kid for a while.”
If you’d like to assist the Pierce family, visit the Ride For Everleigh donation page.
And remember, on those days when you don’t really feel like riding, head out to the barn and saddle up, for Everleigh.