Welcome to our new and improved blog, Grits N Gratitude! We are so excited to launch a new blog with an awesome new mission. Each month, we will introduce you to an amazing and courageous little hero. These amazing young people are doing great things and showing such strength, and we want to let you know all about them. We will tell their inspiring stories, and also shower them with an awesome swag bag full of their favorite things each month! Our mission is to inspire you all through the stories of these beautiful souls' strength, perseverance and love. Our first blog is about a very special hero, and we cant wait to introduce you all to her! Meet Anne Marie Calligas...
Anne Marie Calligas, the five-and-a-half-year-old daughter of S&GK Sales Rep Catherine Calligas, is so very excited to be the first Grits N Gratitude Hero of the Month! Anne Marie was born prematurely on February 24, 2015, after an extremely complicated pregnancy. The myriad of health issues she was born with included congenital heart defects, hypertension, and kidney and respiratory problems. She also suffered an IVH (bleeding in the ventricles of the brain) while in the NICU, and all these issues followed her home.
Over the last five and half years, Anne Marie has become all too familiar with being admitted for lengthy inpatient hospital stays, even needing to be flown to a children’s hospital via Life Flight once. Despite these repeated hospitalizations and having regular appointments with a team of specialists, Anne Marie has remained a feisty, determined child with a fighting spirit and a giving heart. In June of 2020, she was diagnosed with an exceedingly rare disease that there are only a few dozen other known cases of worldwide - the Abernethy Malformation. This is a vascular anomaly where an individual is born with no portal vein in their liver. The portal vein is responsible for transporting blood brought from the stomach, intestines, and other parts of the body directly into the heart and lungs, but more importantly, the portal vein removes toxins from the blood before it enters the heart. Without one, Anne Marie’s blood was contaminated and bypassing her liver completely before entering her heart. She maintained extremely high ammonia levels in her blood that went undetected for years until her diagnosis and were responsible for a wide array of medical and developmental symptoms.
In the midst of a pandemic, Anne Marie traveled from her home state of Alabama with her parents and older sister Isabel to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago to see Dr. Riccardo Superina - who Anne Marie calls “Dr. Superman” - for a series of extremely complex surgeries to form a portal vein for her liver. Lurie Children’s Hospital is one of only two centers in the world, and her surgeon one of only a handful worldwide, with the expertise to treat and perform these lifesaving procedures.
Anne Marie arrived at Lurie’s on August 17 and remained inpatient for almost six weeks. After discharge, she remained in Chicago with her family and became a patient at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, a rehabilitation hospital that specializes in treating patients who need therapy following long term hospitalizations.
Because Anne Marie was on a ventilator for almost a month, she needed to relearn even the most basic tasks, like walking, and has been in intensive physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapy since the last week of September. Tiny but mighty, she dropped down to 24lbs at one point, but with hard work and a lot of prayers she is scheduled to return home at the end of this week, coinciding perfectly with the launch of Grits N Gratitude!
Anne Marie has always preferred the softer knits of the S&GK Serendipity line, so she (and her sister) are THRILLED to see this new launch of girls shirts and leggings that inspire strength, kindness, and gratitude, three things Anne Marie has been surrounded by for the last several months.
After three months of living in the PICU and a hotel, the Calligas family is eager to return home with a healthy Anne Marie, and so grateful for the support they have received from family and friends, medical professionals, therapists, complete strangers who read her story, and the S&GK family.
Anne Marie’s story has been featured in local newspapers in Alabama as well as the Chicago Tribune and the Lurie Children’s Hospital blog.
(Written by S&GK Sales Rep Catherine Calligas)
S&GK is excited to send Anne Marie a Hero’s gift basket with her favorite things to thank her for her heroism that has inspired us all!