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Resolve grows as infant fights for life

Baby Avery Mitchem with his brothers Hunter (left) and Mason. (Photo by Gressit Photography)

by Tom Chillemi

Avery Mitchem’s life is a fight.

Born prematurely with a rare heart defect, he spent 3 months in intensive care. He has endured so much, and so has his family. 

“His lungs were so weak he was on different forms of oxygen to help him breathe,” wrote his mother Cari Mitchem of Hartfield, who has kept a journal of her son’s struggles and trials of her family. “He endured two infections while he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and at one point when his pulmonary stenosis had gotten worse, they had to put him on this medication to try to help his heart. For two weeks straight we did not see our baby open his eyes and he just laid there. That was so scary as his heart rate would also drop a lot of the time.”

Avery has a rare heart defect named tetralogy of fallot (TOF). There are less than 20,000 cases a year in the United States. It is a combination of four heart defects. On top of his TOF, Avery also has Down syndrome.

Open heart surgery is scheduled for December 11, five months to the day after this tiny baby was taken from his mother’s womb by doctors to save him from a life-threatening prenatal complication.

Weighing just 2 pounds, 11 ounces at birth, Avery’s survival could be called a miracle. Faith is the anchor on which his family depends. “I would have to say our strength has definitely been the love and support and, most importantly, the prayers that we have gotten from family, friends, and this amazing community,” said his mother. “We have appreciated all the donations and love given to us through this difficult time and as things continue.”

Christina Smith with Personal Touch Graphics in Urbanna designed t-shirts with a message symbolizing Avery’s battles. The message reads: “You go through wars to become a warrior, keep standing strong brave little heart.” 

The help the Mitchems have received is heartwarming, said Cari. “There’s something special about being in a small community. A lot of people come together and it’s almost like family.”

Friends Kathy Osborne and Wilma Williams have helped by holding a bake sale and a yard sale with numerous people donating goods.

“Beads of Love” for Avery are being sold by Avery’s aunt Linda and the girls at the Bill Hudgins GMC service department in Gloucester.

Donations can be made through GoFundMe at

Beads of Love are still on sale at Bill Hudgins GMC and shirts are available for order on Personal Touch Graphics’ Facebook page. The GoFundMe page is also still up. 

A fund for Avery has been set up at C&F Bank.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newsstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 11.26.2018

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