Wilmington Area High School: Student raffles off hard work for baby’s bills

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

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. — One young man in Wilmington schools is working, in his own way, to take care of another baby boy.

Joanna McKelvey, a teacher and the FFA adviser at Wilmington Area High School, delivered a set of twins July 1. One twin, Austin, is a healthy, growing baby, but his brother, Brett, was born with a hole in his heart, and has had his share of surgeries and hospital stays since then.

Ty Phillips, a Wilmington freshman, knew the teacher because his older siblings were in her class, and wanted, somehow, to help the McKelvey family.

The idea

Phillips was at the Whiting auction barn when he found a box of John Deere (his tractor of choice) parts from an old pedal tractor was going up on the auction block. He said the idea of restoring the John Deere 520 pedal tractor popped into his mind. He thought a raffle might help pay for hospital bills for the McKelvey family.

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“I figured I could do it since I had already renovated a John Deere 60,” said Phillips.

So he asked his mom if he could use the remainder of his money garnered from the livestock sale at Lawrence County Fair to purchase a box of parts that he felt would make a pedal tractor. His mom, Gail Phillips, told him to go for it.

The auction was right after Thanksgiving and he knew he would have time over the Christmas school break to do the work.

“I just knew that if I could do this, it would help her and her family out,” said Phillips.

Promise

When he picked up the box, Auctioneer Duke Whiting asked what Phillips was going to do with the parts. Phillips explained his plan, and Whiting told the student to find him when the tractor was finished, and he would be the first customer to purchase a raffle ticket.

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Phillips went to work on the project immediately, and continued working on it whenever he had a free moment during the Christmas break.

As soon as Phillips was finished, he called Whiting and held him to his word: The auctioneer purchased a few tickets for the raffle.

Phillips said his goal all along is to raise as much money as possible to help his teacher, Mrs. McKelvey, as he calls her, with gas and hospital bills because he realizes how expensive it must be going back and forth to Pittsburgh for medical treatment.

Heart surgery

While Joanna and Jake McKelvey hope the trekking back and forth to Pittsburgh will eventually slow down, there are more surgeries needed, including a heart surgery set for early February to repair the hole in Brett’s heart.

McKelvey said when Brett was born with the heart defect, panic didn’t set in right away because many babies are born with the problem. However, Brett’s situation got complicated.

Many babies are born with the congenital heart disease called Blue Tetralogy of Fallot, or TET, which occurs in approximately 400 out of every million live births, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 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.

McKelvey said she was prepared for the need for heart surgery, but the newborn 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.
In addition to the twins, the McKelveys have a 4-year-old son, Hunter.

Rare complication

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 aneurysm, which McKelvey said is very rare in babies.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, a Mycotic aneurysm is an infected aneurysm arising from bacterial infection of the arterial wall.

Brett 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, according to McKelvey.

The good news is that neurologists are happy with his development and, so far, don’t think there will be many neurological effects as a result of the aneurysm.

Today, Brett is at home with his brothers but reports back to at least one doctor’s office every week.

“It’s amazing how much he (Brett) has improved since we brought him home,” said McKelvey.

Gaining ground

As of Jan. 15, Brett was cleared to start on some baby foods besides milk and cereal to help him gain weight, but his mom said his diet will always be a concern because of the intestine problems at the beginning of his life.

Austin, his identical twin, is weighing in at 22 pounds, 6 ounces, while Brett weighs just about half that, at 11 pounds, 9 ounces. McKelvey said she is confident he will start catching up with his brother once the next heart surgery is over and he is back home again.

Medical leave

McKelvey is on leave from her teaching job, but she said her FFA members are a wonderful bunch of youngsters — and the feeling is obviously mutual.

“She (Mrs. McKelvey) is a great FFA adviser, and I can’t wait for her to come back,” said Phillips.

Tickets

The drawing for the raffle will be held in May during the Wilmington Area FFA banquet and all proceeds will benefit Brett McKelvey.

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To date, tickets have been sold to tractor enthusiasts and supporters as far away as Missouri, Florida and eastern Pennsylvania. Tickets are $3 for one or $5 for two and can be obtained by calling 724-651-5294 or 724-651-9900.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. Joanna is a personal friend and colleague. As a fellow Agricultural educator I can attest to her commitment and dedication to her students. Despite all her family heartaches she has went out of her way to make sure her ’kids’ at school are still getting a first class Ag experience and opportunities through FFA. This is a wonderful thing her kids put together and encourage everyone to lend a hand.

    • Per your question re: tickets/donating for Brett McKelvey on Facebook, this is from Dan Morrison’s post.

      Effective 1-23-2015 anyone can make a donation at any First National Bank office to the “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund”. Gail just set that up today (1-22-2015).
      If you wish to purchase raffle tickets make your check payable to: “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund” and mail to: Gail or Scott Phillips, 4217 Hillsville Road, Pulaski, PA 16143. Include a self addressed stamped envelope if you want them to mail the raffle tickets to you, otherwise write your Smart Phone number on the check or separate piece of paper so she can take a picture of your tickets and send them to you via her I-Phone.
      In case you did not see it in the article, tickets are $3 for 1 ticket -or- $5 for 2 tickets.

  2. I think this is wonderful. My older sister died from this with her heart. They did not have the technology back then. I always have wondered what she would be like if she lived.

  3. As a retired secretary from Wilmington Area H.S. I know 1st hand Joanna is a WONDERFUL teacher & a loving mom! So !many prayers have been offered for comfort & healing have been prayed. I know the family appreciates every one. Kudos to this young man for his BIG loving heart! Bless you Ty!

  4. Is there an address we can send checks to ?? or gift cards to help cover the cost of gas? or an on line donation we can make to help these folks? I’m not interested in the tickets but would like to donate. Thank you.

    • Per your question re: tickets/donating for Brett McKelvey on Facebook, this is from Dan Morrison’s post.

      Effective 1-23-2015 anyone can make a donation at any First National Bank office to the “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund”. Gail just set that up today (1-22-2015).
      If you wish to purchase raffle tickets make your check payable to: “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund” and mail to: Gail or Scott Phillips, 4217 Hillsville Road, Pulaski, PA 16143. Include a self addressed stamped envelope if you want them to mail the raffle tickets to you, otherwise write your Smart Phone number on the check or separate piece of paper so she can take a picture of your tickets and send them to you via her I-Phone.
      In case you did not see it in the article, tickets are $3 for 1 ticket -or- $5 for 2 tickets.

      Thank you and best of luck!

    • Hi TJ,

      Gail Phillips left this information about making donations:

      Make checks or money orders payable to “Brett McKelvey donation fund”
      Mail them to
      Gail Phillips
      4217 Hillsville road
      Pulaski PA 16143

      If you are interested in just make a donation you may do so at any First National Bank or if you want to send a check or money order make sure to mark “for donation only ” in the memo.”

  5. As a former FFA member, and a mom, I greatly admire this young man! He is going to do great things in his life! Instead of buying a ticket, (shipping to Utah might be pricey) I would like to donate some money instead. Where can I send it?? It’s kids in the FFA like this who are going to keep agriculture going! Well done young man, very well done!

  6. There is hope for this world. What an amazing young man. And he’s an FFA member, farmers are special people. Your mom has to be so proud of you! I am too! Thank you!. Please post the address so we can buy tickets

  7. I decided to call Gail Phillips (Ty’s mother) to get the information everyone is looking for should they want to make a donation or purchase raffle tickets.
    Effective 1-23-2015 anyone can make a donation at any First National Bank office to the “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund”. Gail just set that up today (1-22-2015).
    If you wish to purchase raffle tickets make your check payable to: “Brett McKelvey Donation Fund” and mail to: Gail or Scott Phillips, 4217 Hillsville Road, Pulaski, PA 16143. Include a self addressed stamped envelope if you want them to mail the raffle tickets to you, otherwise write your Smart Phone number on the check or separate piece of paper so she can take a picture of your tickets and send them to you via her I-Phone.
    In case you did not see it in the article, tickets are $3 for 1 ticket -or- $5 for 2 tickets.

  8. Great job Ty! We need more caring people like you. I used to live in New Wilmington and it’s good to see and hear positive news about our community.

  9. I have been getting several phone calls and messages with questions regarding the drawing…. If you would like to purchase tickets please make checks or money orders payable to ” Brett McKelvey donation fund ”
    Mail them to
    Gail Phillips
    4217 Hillsville road
    Pulaski PA
    16143
    In the memo please write your cell # ( if available) and I will send you a picture of the tickets filled out with your name that you can use as your receipt.
    If you are interested in just make a donation you may do so at any First National Bank or if you want to send a check or money order make sure to mark “for donation only ” in the memo
    There are also several venues in the New Wilmington Pa area that also have tickets available… Ryder’s restaurant
    Sankeys feed mill
    NW sales ( Wilmington Auction barn, available on Mondays only)
    Any other questions please call me at 724-651-5294
    Thank you !!!

    • Hi Piet,

      Gail Phillips left this information about purchasing tickets:

      “I have been getting several phone calls and messages with questions regarding the drawing…. If you would like to purchase tickets please make checks or money orders payable to ” Brett McKelvey donation fund ”
      Mail them to
      Gail Phillips
      4217 Hillsville road
      Pulaski PA
      16143
      In the memo please write your cell # ( if available) and I will send you a picture of the tickets filled out with your name that you can use as your receipt.
      If you are interested in just make a donation you may do so at any First National Bank or if you want to send a check or money order make sure to mark “for donation only ” in the memo
      There are also several venues in the New Wilmington Pa area that also have tickets available… Ryder’s restaurant
      Sankeys feed mill
      NW sales ( Wilmington Auction barn, available on Mondays only)
      Any other questions please call me at 724-651-5294
      Thank you !!!”

  10. My younger brother had one of these. What this young man is doing is what we all should do when someone needs help; we help them without expecting anything in return. Let’s all say a prayer for baby Brett for better health and a prayer of thanks for Ty!

  11. What a remarkable story. This is what everyone should do when they see someone that needs help. Please say prayers for baby Brett’s health to get better and for Ty, who is an example of how one person can make a difference.

  12. I put a check in the mail this morning. I love what this young man is doing. Good job Ty. And good job Ty’s parents, for raising him right!

  13. Mrs Gail

    My name is Kevin bell owner of Kevin’s fire wood sales based in IN god been so good to me my bussiness and family I m sending 2 checks one for tickets 1 just for your son to tell him thanks for what’s he doing also going to write you a letter hoping that you get it soon may. God bless you

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