Faraway strangers help to pay medical costs for sick Kansas girl

Family friend Clark Sanders holds Grayson Sutton as they pose with Anthony Imperato, right, of Henry Repeating Arms. Imperato donated 100 rifles and raised more than $50,000 for a Kansan girl he had never met before.
Family friend Clark Sanders holds Grayson Sutton as they pose with Anthony Imperato, right, of Henry Repeating Arms. Imperato donated 100 rifles and raised more than $50,000 for a Kansan girl he had never met before. Courtesy photo

It started with a cough in January 2014.

Grayson Sutton, 4, visited her doctor’s office in Sedan. The trip ended with her passing out in the examination room.

The doctor told her mother, Robyn Sutton, to visit a cardiologist in Wichita, so she scheduled an appointment for April 22. That trip ended with the mother and daughter taking an emergency medical flight to Denver the same day.

They spent the next 45 days in Denver Children’s Hospital, 30 of which were in the intensive care unit. That trip ended with doctors diagnosing Grayson with primary pulmonary hypertension, a genetic condition that caused the pressure in her pulmonary arteries to be almost five times greater than a normal person’s.

Her medical problems have led to mounting medical bills. The Denver travel expenses alone exceeded $10,000.

Halfway across the country, a man who had never met the Suttons – who had never even been to Kansas – decided to design a set of 100 .22-caliber rifles and donate all of the proceeds to help pay for Grayson’s bills.

“It’s not every day that a guy gives away 100 guns,” said Clark Sanders, a family friend of the Suttons’. “I was blown away.”

Sutton came up with the idea of raffling off a gun in the community to raise money. She turned to Sanders for help in finding a gun to buy.

Sanders is friends with Anthony Imperato, who owns New Jersey-based Henry Repeating Arms.

“He called me and said, ‘I hate to bother you, buddy, but there’s a sick girl here in Sedan,’ ” Imperato said.

Long before Grayson’s diagnosis, Imperato had started a corporate-wide program, Guns for Great Causes, which donates guns to be auctioned or raffled off. He has made cash donations that surpassed the amount he gave to Grayson – $100,000 to the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital – but never this many guns to an individual cause.

“To do that for a little girl he’s never met in the middle of the country,” Sutton said. “It’s amazing.”

Imperato estimates the cost of producing the guns was about $30,000. Each buttstock is laser etched with a sunflower and the phrase “Get Well Grayson.” The serial number includes GWG, a nod to the phrase that adorns the gun.

Kansans bought most of the guns through Henry Repeating Arms, but the GWG rifles have been found as far as Tri-County Sporting Goods in New York. A wholesale retailer contacted owner Joe Petrucelli to see whether he wanted to buy one.

“I saw her picture and how cute she was,” Petrucelli said. “I have no idea what made me do it, but I did.”

He purchased two rifles and decided to sell 100 raffle tickets at $100 apiece. He also has sold pins and kept a donation jar near the register.

Grayson’s visits to Denver, once monthly, have been reduced to every three months. But the memories of that first trip still remain with the mother.

Doctors performed several procedures, including two lung biopsies and a heart catheter. Grayson bled through the staples and did not wake up for four days afterward.

“She was on life support,” Sutton said. “She spiked a fever so high that first night, they thought she would code.”

Grayson eventually woke up. The doctors figured out a plan to regulate her condition. Sutton and Grayson returned home on June 5 to a somewhat normal life that requires only a bit of adjustment.

She swims like any other 5-year-old but must wear a specialized swimsuit so her central medication line stays dry. She carries a backpack, but instead of school supplies, it contains a pump that regulates her blood pressure.

“She has a life-limiting illness,” Sutton said. “It will shorten her life, but we just don’t know to what degree it will.”

Grayson’s condition is under control at the moment, but in May she will need a new heart catheter. She will also eventually need a lung transplant.

Imperato’s contributions have exceeded $52,000, and Petrucelli has raised almost $21,500. And they’re still going.

The winner of Petrucelli’s raffle in New York donated the gun back to the store, and it will be used in another fundraiser.

“But this time down there (in Kansas),” Petrucelli said. “Where it should be.”

Reach Kelly Meyerhofer at 316-268-6357 or kmeyerhofer@wichitaeagle.com.

How to help

Want your chance at the gun originally raffled in New York that is now in Kansas? To find out more about the fundraising event to help Grayson Sutton, contact Clark Sanders at 620-252-0180 within the next couple of weeks.