Derby reels in support for Gray girl

Shayla McGraw, 11, takes a break on the ice at Sabbathday Lake with her grandparents, Jackie and Walter McGraw of Gray. The family was the benficiary of an Eagles-sponsored fishing derby fundraiser to help with Shayla's expenses as she battles kidney disease.

NEW GLOUCESTER – Eleven-year-old Shayla McGraw couldn’t wait to get out on Sabbathday Lake Sunday morning for a fishing derby, wanting to hit the ice at 3:30 a.m., 2½ hours before it started. Her energy and excitement were even more remarkable given the reason for the Eagles-sponsored derby: to support Shayla and her family as she battles end-stage kidney disease.

The derby raised $8,601 to go toward the McGraw family’s expenses as Shayla continues her fight, said organizer Lloyd Tripp. The ultimate goal is to find a kidney donor for the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School sixth-grader.

“It’s shocking, because she’s not a sick kid,” said longtime family friend Linwood May of New Gloucester. “She’s always got a smile; we just didn’t know she was sick.”

The bad news came last Labor Day weekend. Shayla’s foot had been bothering her, and she had blood work done to see what was wrong. The tests revealed that she has end-stage renal failure and is in need of a kidney transplant.

“It hits your heart hard,” said her uncle, Josh McGraw. “She’s a great kid, amazing.”

Shayla’s grandparents, Walter and Jackie McGraw of Gray, who have raised her since she was a baby, are longtime members of the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, club 4131. The couple’s strong community network has stepped up to help them during a difficult time.

“The Eagles have done a lot,” said Walter McGraw, who grew up near Sabbathday Lake, where the derby was held.

“They’ve gone all out; I think it’s great,” said Jackie McGraw. “The community, the friends that we have, it’s awesome. It’s everything to us.”

When he heard about the McGraws’ situation, Tripp, who is a member of the local Eagles chapter, decided the club should get involved to help raise awareness and money. A former club president and trustee, he organized the second annual Ice Fishing Derby Fundraiser to benefit Shayla and her family. The inaugural derby last year benefited a club member with cancer.

“That’s our motto: people helping people,” said Tripp.

Shayla has dialysis three times a week in Westbrook, said Jackie McGraw. During each three-hour session, she is hooked up to a machine through a tube in her chest. The machine filters her blood to remove excess water and waste, essentially doing the job her kidneys should be doing.

The family is searching for potential kidney donors with type O blood. Shayla is on a donor wait list, but that won’t come into play until they have checked for family matches, Jackie McGraw said.  Several family members and friends have been tested and are awaiting results to see if they are potential matches.  One of Shayla’s aunts, who is not a match, is exploring the possibility of an organ swap, where she would donate to another family if they have a willing donor who would be a match for Shayla.

The ice fishing derby Feb. 19 was a fitting way to support Shayla, who loves to fish and hunt. Walter McGraw says that she’s been fishing with him since she was 2.

Although there didn’t seem to be a huge number of fish caught, the haul that really mattered was the money raised. Tripp said about 160 tickets had been sold at $15 each for adults and $10 for ages 15 and under. There was also a 50/50 raffle during the banquet with door prizes at the Eagles club after the derby. A total of $700 went to the derby’s first-, second- and third-place finishers – Jeremy Hewey, Aaron Hodson and Kyle Verrill – and most of those winnings were donated to the McGraws.

Deborah Small, Shayla’s aunt, emphasized just how important and appreciated the support has been.

“That’s one of the big things about doing this event for the family as well, because of the costs that people don’t see,” said Small. “Going back and forth to dialysis three days a week, and going to the doctors, my sister and my brother-in-law taking time off from work. My mother has been helping out a lot. There have been so many people – a good friend of theirs, Sandy (Spangenberger), does it as well. So that’s huge.”

About 20 local businesses also donated to the derby, including prizes for the raffle. There were several personal donations as well, and at least six other Eagles clubs added their support.

Perhaps the most visible – and edible – donation at the derby came from the Wallace brothers, also longtime family friends of the McGraws, who provided food. Dave Wallace owns the Seahog food truck, which he parked by the lake on Sunday. Three of the Wallace brothers –Dave, Dana and J.P. – all pitched in to cover the cost of the food.

The outpouring of support for Shayla, who turns 12 in a couple of weeks, was evident throughout the day.

Kym Small, who is like an aunt to Shayla, explained it this way, “We’re a small community, but we’re always there for each other.”

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker

A closer look

More information on the transplant process is available from the Maine Transplant Program at Maine Medical Center: 

The Fraternal Order of the Eagles 4131 is accepting donations for the McGraws. Checks can be sent to F.O.E. #4131 at P.O. Box 1138 Gray, ME 04039.

Shayla McGraw of Gray, who has kidney disease, is surrounded by family and friends at an ice fishing fundraiser. From left are Walter McGraw, family friend J.P. Wallace, aunt Deborah Small, Jackie McGraw and event organizer Lloyd Tripp of the Gray-New Gloucester Eagles.

Shayla McGraw, 11, takes a break on the ice at Sabbathday Lake with her grandparents, Jackie and Walter McGraw of Gray. The family was the benficiary of an Eagles-sponsored fishing derby fundraiser to help with Shayla’s expenses as she battles kidney disease.

Zach Beardsley, of Cumberland, and his daughter Bryanna Beardsley, of Gray, show support for Shayla McGraw by participating in the 2nd annual Ice Fishing Derby Fundraiser on Sabbathday Lake.

Shayla McGraw with her aunt, Deborah Small, during an ice fishing derby fundraiser in support of Shayla and her family as she battles kidney disease.