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Layla, a sweet red rose with an imperfect petal
Layla Rose Tolar is a 7-year-old blonde-haired girl from Owensville, about 15 miles from Benton, near Hot Springs Village.
This girl, who said she is a red rose "because I am sweet" as she put down her head with a confident smile and continued to pick at her fuzzy heart doll, is like a lot of girls her age. She loves to draw and is gifted with arts and craft activities; her favorite food is grilled shrimp; she loves to sing; her favorite celebrity is singer/actor Justin Bieber; and she misses all her friends from school and church. Layla's mom points out that there used to be a singing Justin Bieber doll on an IV pole, but it was taken down recently.
"She said we can't take the singing Justin Bieber anymore because I push his belly button and make him sing too much," Mandy Tolar said with a laugh. "And I embarrass her when I dance to it."
Layla sighed a soft "yes," snickered softly and hid her face momentarily behind the fuzzy large purple heart. For most of the interview with The Saline Courier, Layla was quiet, but her eyes lighted up when she talked about her four dogs at home â€” Cooper, Sassy, Barney and Bubba. She also smiled and nodded "yes" when asked if she has enjoyed spending extra time with her mom, 5-year-old sister Harley Ray and dad Jim.
Though she is a Saline County resident, Layla loves her teachers, friends and the tire swing on the playground of Fountain Lake Elementary School, just across the Garland County line. On the day of her interview and picture shoot with the Courier, Layla chose to wear a blue Justin Bieber T-shirt, as it appeared to help her stop from clamming up to questions from the reporter.
"Layla is very artistic and she is very smart," Mandy Tolar proudly smiled and said about her daughter. "She is great reader and she loves school. And, yes, she is a little bit shy until you get to know her, and then she is a little chatterbox."
But unlike most 7-year-old girls, who often dream of castles and being a princess, there are just a few kinks in the armor that surrounds her heart. For the past four weeks, Mandy Tolar has spent nearly every single night caring for and spending time with Layla in the nationally recognized Heart Center of Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, along with Layla's father and sister.
Layla, who was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy after contracting a virus earlier this year, is waiting and hoping for her own heart to heal.
"Heart failure is really what it is," Mandy Tolar explained. "There's a chance that (Layla) can get better, but we are also on the heart transplant list right now. Now we are waiting for either her heart to improve or to get a heart transplant."
****How you can help Layla: donations, concerts and lunch ***************
Last summer when the Courier introduced readers to a 2-year-old boy named Easton Begoon who was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia â€” who also happens to be a frequent patient of AHC â€” Saline County residents stepped up to the plate to help the young family pay for rising medical bills. Numerous businesses held fundraisers, hundreds of residents from Saline County and beyond flooded any event that benefited Easton, including three days of record-breaking blood donations.
Whether you are a silent individual or group of co-workers or friends, even a small donation can change the entire world, at least for innocent little children like Easton and Layla.
"I haven't even asked ... I don't want to know," Mandy Tolar said about the rising medical costs to care for her daughter.
At 7 p.m. on Saturday, the public is invited to the "Party With A Purpose" benefit concert for Layla. The event, which will be held at 13401 Wilhem Drive in the Avilla community of Saline County, includes performers The Dirt Road Republic, Schantz Alan Red, Chase Cole, Josh Ivy, Marc Nickolson, Junior Hill, O.T.R., Justin Brucks, and the Cody Ives Band.
The cover charge is only $5 and the proceeds benefit Layla "Sweet Red" Rose Tolar.
On Sunday, Ten Mile Missionary Baptist Church, located at 17511 Church Road in Lonsdale just off U.S. 70, will hold a Lunch For Layla at noon. The cost for a plate of spaghetti, green beans, bread, dessert, and drink is simply a donation. Take-out plates also will be available.
According to friends, family and visitors on the Prayers for Layla Rose Tolar Facebook page, there are a number of other fundraisers in the works. The date hasn't been set yet, but a benefit day will be held soon at Jump City in Hot Springs; the bluegrass band Fully Assured is planning a benefit concert, that will include a bake sale; there will be a concessions booth at the upcoming Paron Mayfest (date to be announced later) with all proceeds benefiting Layla; and Barbara Huchingson said "there is a big concert in the works and if it comes together as planned, it will be big!"
If you can't make any of the events, donations can be deposited in the Layla Tolar Transplant FD account at any Summit Bank location. The commission from sales of Scentsy brand products such as candles will also be donated by Natalie Terry; visit her website at http://natalieterry.scentsy.us/. Volunteers also are looking into selling Layla T-shirts, but mostly they are pushing for people to pray for Layla.
For more information about the events or how to donate, call Barbara Huchingson at 501-672-9434 or email email@example.com.
"Definitely I want to say thank you," Mandy Tolar said. "We appreciate all the support. We are very blessed to have all the support that we do. Mainly though I want everyone to continue praying for (Layla)!"
***Children's Hospital and Layla's Future*******
More than four weeks ago, Mandy Tolar was beginning the last semester of her college career. With dreams of achieving a degree in elementary school education, she is "this close" to earning it.
"I completed three days of internship and then Layla was admitted (to ACH)," Mandy Tolar explained. "So I withdrew this semester, but I hope to return in the fall if everything goes well. I am too close to quit!"
Now she, and the rest of her family, spends nearly every day and night on the 4th floor of Children's Hospital. But Mandy Tolar, with help from the hospital staff and administration, makes it a point to decorate Layla's room as close to her room at home as possible.
Filled with teddy bears, and various other plush dolls in the room, pictures of Layla, family and friends hang on the wall. Layla smiled and pointed out a picture of her with Trixie, a certified therapy dog that the hospital uses in their T.A.I.L.S. (Therapeutic Animal Interventions Lift Spirits) program. There is also an Xbox video game system below the TV, which ACH Senior Media Relations Specialist Hilary DeMillo explained is in every patient's room.
Take a drive off Interstate 630 and onto the roadway titled 1 Children's Way, and you'll immediately see the large and colorful building blocks at the entrance. Aside from being a private, nonprofit hospital, even the entrance into ACH sets it apart from the perception of what a hospital is suppose to be like.
A quick glance and it would appear you are inside a type of children's museum, from the aquarium to the large scale train inside, to the unique play area outside. But there is much more to ACH than the aesthetically comforting atmosphere.
According to www.archildrens.org, ACH "is the only pediatric medical center in the state and is one of largest in the nation. With 316 staffed beds, Arkansas Children's Hospital is a tertiary care, regional referral center treating children from birth to age 21, who come from every county in Arkansas and many nearby states."
The sixth largest trauma center in the U.S., the campus reportedly spans 29 city blocks and houses 316 beds, a staff of approximately 500 physicians, 80 residents in pediatrics and pediatric specialties and more than 4,000 employees. With various themes for the purpose of easing the fears and anxiety of both patients and guardians, ACH was also listed by Fortune magazine from 2008 to 2011 as one of the top 100 "Best Companies to Work For."
Layla is in the Heart Center area, or as Mandy Tolar said, "you have to take the yellow elevators to get there." In 2011, there were 31 heart transplants conducted at the hospital. DeMillo said it was the "most it has ever conducted in a year" and that it set a record "among the nationâ€™s pediatric medical centers."
"The milestone means that 31 children from across the state and region who were previously in critical condition and at imminent risk of heart failure now are at home with their families, going to school and once again playing with their friends," she said.
Dr. Elizabeth Frazier, director of pediatric heart transplant at ACH and a professor of pediatrics in the University of Arkansas for Medical Science College of Medicine, added, "We cannot underestimate the power of transplants to give these children a completely different quality of life. They certainly face a hard road ahead, but transplant completely changes their outlook."
Seven-year-old Layla, with her spunky personality, is hoping that if her own heart doesn't heal, she can also be a heart transplant success story. However long it takes, DeMillo, who called Layla "a doll," said the ACH staff is "dedicated to fulfilling our mission of enhancing, sustaining and restoring children's health and development."
For more information about Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, visit www.archildrens.org.
For more information about the benefit concerts, lunch, or other events or how to donate, call Barbara Huchingson at 501-672-9434 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the Prayers for Layla Rose Tolar webpage on www.facebook.com. Linda Smith Cook also said, "Don't forget to send Layla a card and a dollar," which can be mailed to Arkansas Children's Hospital, attention Layla Tolar, CVICU/4H, 1 Children's Way, Little Rock, AR 72202-3500.