FFA adviser feels blessed by community support


NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — Last year, Wilmington FFA’er Ty Phillips, now a Wilmington Area High School sophomore, wanted to help Joanna and Jake McKelvey’s family with medical bills. Joanna is a teacher and FFA adviser at Wilmington Area High School.

McKelvey delivered a set of twins July 1, 2014. One twin, Austin, is a healthy, growing toddler, but his brother, Brett, was born was born with a heart defect.

Ty Phillips
Ty Phillips, a Wilmington freshman, worked to remodel this pedal tractor and is now raffling it off for a good cause.

Phillips was at the Whiting auction barn when he found a box of John Deere parts from an old pedal tractor on the auction block. He restored the John Deere 520 pedal tractor and then raffled it off in an effort to help pay for hospital bills for the McKelvey family.

After Farm and Dairy first wrote about Phillips’ efforts in January 2015, news of the raffle spread across the United States, with people reaching out to purchase raffle tickets.

Related: Feb. 2015 update on McKelvey fundraiser


The congenital heart disease called Blue Tetralogy of Fallot, or TET, occurs in approximately 400 out of every 1 million live births. With Blue TET, oxygenated blood is blocked or limited from getting through the body. Brett doesn’t suffer from Blue TET, but from Pink TET, which means his blood is able to get the oxygen it needs, but it doesn’t get to where it needs to go.

Now, over a year later, both boys are doing wonderful. But it’s been rocky.

Multiple surgeries

Before the surgery could happen last year, Brett developed a bacterial infection in his intestines. Six days after birth, he was rushed into the operating room where doctors had to remove three-fourths of his intestine. The tiny baby had to wear an ostomy bag for the next eight weeks.

Later, just before the doctors were ready to perform the final surgery on Brett for his intestines, he developed a staph infection and eventually sepsis.

Then, Brett developed a Mycotic, or infected, aneurysm, and was rushed into surgery again. This time for a craniotomy, where a little bit of brain matter was removed and a shunt was inserted, which he will wear for the remainder of his life.

Back on track

Fast forward to 2016. McKelvey said Brett’s recovery is going so well that he only has to go the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC every six months for checkups with the cardiologist.

“Heart-wise, Brett is doing very well,” said McKelvey, adding he’s not on any type of medication now.

He also had a checkup with the neurologist in December and all is good.

“The doctors and our family are so pleased with how far along he has come in the past year,” said McKelvey.

McKelvey said he is developing as well as can be expected. Brett is very mobile by army crawling, but he is not walking yet.

“He’ll walk with you, just not by himself yet,” she said, adding doctors are hopeful that he will walk by himself in the future.

Currently, Brett goes to occupational, physical and speech therapies, although McKelvey said it is too early to tell what type of cognitive effects the aneurysm will have on Brett.

Diet challenges

Brett is also 6 pounds smaller than his twin, Austin. Brett weighs 26 pounds and 12 ounces.

McKelvey said Brett’s diet can be tricky, and it can be really challenging because he wants to replicate his twin’s eating habits but can’t sometimes.

Brett has to eat green beans every day for the fiber, due to his reduced intestine. The family also has to watch the sugars in the fruits he eats, and he can’t eat bananas or raw fruit. However, McKelvey said the doctors say Brett is doing well with what is called Short Bowel Syndrome.

“He’s a successful case,” said McKelvey.

Brett does not require a feeding tube, but he still has to drink four ounces of baby formula a day to ensure he is getting the vitamins and calories he needs. He also has to receive B-12 shots, because without the intestine, the body can’t absorb it.

In addition to the twins, the McKelvey family includes a 5-year-old son, Hunter, and a baby on the way. McKelvey is due in June with her fourth child.

Community support

During last year’s raffle, tickets were sold across the United States including Missouri and Florida. The raffle raised more than $10,000 and included donations from generous donors who just wanted to help. McKelvey said the family was overwhelmed with everyone’s generosity.

The lucky raffle winner was a local ticket holder, Gwen West, of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. One act of kindness by Phillips turned into another act of kindness in the end.

West gave the pedal tractor to Brett.


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