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March 22, 2014

Teen battling kidney disease hopes to help other youths with chronic conditions

NEW CASTLE — Patti Colbert was standing in a local pediatrician’s office Sept. 11, 2008, when she got the words no mother wants to hear.

“Do you know how to get to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh?” the doctor asked, a solemn look on his face.

Thus began an odyssey that has spanned nearly six years and had its share of both heartbreak and hope for the Colbert family of Slippery Rock Township.

It is a story that brought Grace Colbert from the brink of death to a future full of promise.

THE BEGINNING

Grace and her fraternal twin, Tara, were born eight weeks premature on Jan. 23, 1999, to Patti and Bob Colbert.

Tara, who weighed 3.7 pounds at birth, spent five weeks in the hospital, while Grace was hospitalized for six weeks.

“When I had my sonogram, we were told that Grace had a line on her head and that chances were good that she would either be born with brain damage or water on her brain,” Patti said. “Grace stopped breathing and had to be put on life support, but she pulled through. That is why we named her Grace.

“Bob and I got home from the hospital with her and said, ‘wow, we paid our dues, but we’ve got two healthy kids,’ ” Patti said.

That seemed to be the case for a while. Grace took dance classes, participated in gymnastics and played the piano.

Then, when she was 9 years old, her mom noticed that the petite, blond-haired girl’s eyes looked a bit puffy.

“I thought maybe she was having an allergic reaction to something, so I took her to an allergy doctor who gave her an antihistamine,” Patti said.

Grace’s legs started to swell after she returned home, though, and her weight ballooned from 54 to 70 pounds almost overnight.

“That’s when I knew that something was wrong — really wrong,” Patti said.

Lab work was ordered and the family was summoned to Grace’s pediatrician’s office, where Patti was asked about her knowledge of Children’s Hospital.

“He said don’t make any stops, don’t go home, there is a team of specialists waiting for you,” she said. “He said it appeared that Grace had a rare kidney disease. I just started to cry. I couldn’t figure out what was happening. She had been fine a few days earlier.”

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