Sairah Grace Hodge sings from the heart, and in her case that means a lot. Sairah is a 19-year-old student at Keiser University who is a CHD (congenital heart defect) survivor. Sairah (pronounced SY-RA) was born with transposition of the great arteries, or TGA, which means her heart arteries – the pulmonary artery and aorta – were in the wrong place and had to be surgically transposed. One out of every 100 babies in the United States is born with some type of congenital heart defect each year. It is the number one birth defect worldwide.
People who meet Sairah would never guess by her sweet smile and generous spirit that she has endured six heart surgeries between open heart and heart caths and, due to scoliosis, three spine surgeries as well. She also has rheumatoid arthritis, which adds another layer of health issues. Since Sairah's last spine surgery in May 2011, she has been having trouble breathing off and on and her pulse has been running high. One doctor says she will need another open heart surgery to fix her heart and she has been put on oxygen to use as needed and must keep it with her at all times. He also wants her to cut down on her singing, which is her first love and her gift to others. Sairah was going to Winston-Salem, NC at the end of December to get a second opinion, but now they have decided to do her treatment here. Bottom line is to figure out what is wrong. Many upcoming tests for Sairah Grace.
Although she has sung in church since she was little, she didn't begin singing for others until the age of 13. In the spring of 2010, Sairah performed her first concert at the Clay County Fair and she has also performed at the Jacksonville Landing. She was Vocalist of the Year for 2010 with the Orange Blossom Country Music Association, Inc. She sings in a variety of styles from country and R & B to gospel and holiday favorites, and loves them all.
She has performed in many different community concert events, and has been the local vocalist for numerous National Anthem performances, such as the American Heart Association Walk, MS Walk, Buddy Walk, Autism Ride, Light Up the City for the Fraternal Order of Police, Breast Cancer Walk, Dreams Come True Seven Bridges Bike Ride, Fallen Angels Bike Ride at Whitey's Fish Camp, local football games, Harley Drag Races, Autism Cycle Rides, and others. At one time she was part of a group called First Coast Country and Gospel Music Association. With this group she performed in different community events with fellow singers for Starlight Children's Foundation, Songs of Love, and at a variety of Fall Festivals.
In 2006, Sairah was a Dreams Come True recipient. She and her family took a four-day Disney Cruise courtesy of Dreams Come True. They also visited Marineland to swim with dolphins, sponsored by Special Times, a program of Dreams Come True created to remind dreamers that they are extraordinary. When the original dream is fulfilled, the illness and the struggles do not end, so that is why the organization developed Special Times.
In true pay-it-forward fashion last April, Sairah presented Singing for Dreams to benefit Dreams come True. Customers at Dick's Wings on Wells Road in Orange Park were serenaded as they ate, while raffle tickets were sold to benefit Dreams Come True. For her 16th and 18th birthday, she also raised money for Dreams Come True. In place of gifts, guests donated in her honor and this helped sponsor the dreams of two local children, Hannah Blankinchip and Callie Carver.
Sairah Grace is also the Face of the First Coast for the "Go Red for Women" 2011 with the American Heart Association.
The latest event Sairah participated in was a singing event for Songs of Love, a national nonprofit organization that creates free, personalized, original songs to uplift children and teens currently facing tough medical, physical or emotional challenges. This event raised nearly $300 for Songs of Love, and three local brothers, Brayden, Skyler, and Zachary Wendorff, received their very own personalized CDs at the concert. All three brothers, ages eight, seven, and four, are battling a brain disease called Chiari, which is a malformation of the brain.
Recently, Sairah got to ride in the Met Life blimp with a friend, Jessica Louvier. “It was amazing,” Sairah exclaimed. “We even went over St. Augustine!” Before her two-hour ride, she did not even know people could fly in the blimp. This was a trip of a life time for her. Since 1996, Through the Believe in Tomorrow Hands on Flying Adventures program, children all across the country have had the unique chance to visit and ride in MetLife blimps, giving them a rare birds-eye view of their hometown.
With a goal of becoming a Medical Assistant, Sairah has been taking courses at Keiser University in Jacksonville. However, due to recent complications with her oxygen levels, she has taken a leave of absence from school. She plans to resume her studies as soon as possible.
“I love life and I live each day to the fullest,” says Sairah, “I do not let anything stand in my way of enjoying it. I was never promised tomorrow, so if I am blessed with tomorrow, then why waste what God has given me?” I also live OUTSIDE the BUBBLE.