November 14, 2013

Toddler’s rendition of ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ captures hearts

By: TODAY Watch 3-year-old Grace Anna Rodgers belt out the national anthem with boundless vigor and joy and it’s hard not to smile. Thousands of people have now viewed the video of the little girl singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” a surprise delight for her mother, who says she feels the love and welcomes it. “It feels like we are getting a big hug from the world,” Angie Rodgers told TODAY Moms in an email. “If people knew how hard it was to get her here and the heartache we've experienced over the past five years, they would know why we feel honored they've chosen her to love.”
Rodgers, who lives in Liberty, Ky., with her husband Jeff, suffered three miscarriages before Grace was born, she said. When she was three months pregnant with Grace, doctors told her the little girl was going to be "different,” she recalled. Grace was born with Conradi Hunermann Syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes skeletal malformations, skin abnormalities, cataracts and a short stature, according to The National Organization for Rare Disorders. The girl has already undergone countless procedures, including spinal fusion, three cataract surgeries, and a glaucoma surgery, her mom said. Doctors can't give her parents a definite prognosis for Grace but the family believes she can live an average life span. Grace started singing when she was about a year-and-a-half old. Rodgers said she always sang with and for her daughter when she was in the hospital, and when Rodgers couldn't hold the little girl, she would lay her head on Grace’s bed and sing while her daughter played with her hair. Rodgers would also sometimes sing the national anthem and one evening, Grace just started singing along, her mom said. When Rodgers recently posted the video of her daughter singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the reaction was overwhelming. “We have been to the point of tears several days reading emails, Facebook posts, YouTube posts on how our little girl has inspired people,” Rodgers said. “There have been sick people, people with disabled children, people down on their luck, heartbroken people reach out to us and express their love for our daughter. As a parent, it just gives you hope that our little Grace can make a difference no matter her disability.”
November 15, 2013

Warning: The Story Behind This Toddler’s ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ Video May Make You Cry

By: PEOPLE Three-year-old Grace Anna Rodgers’s rendition of the TODAY Moms. Grace was born with a rare genetic disorder known as Conradi Hunermann Syndrome. This disorder causes skeletal malformations, skin issues, cataracts and stunted growth. Since Grace’s birth, Rodgers and her husband, Jeff, have worked to give their daughter a normal, loving life. Amid Grace’s numerous surgeries, including a spinal fusion, one activity that has helped the Rodgers family stay optimistic is singing. Angie has sung to her daughter from day one, and during hospital visits when Grace couldn’t be held by her own mother, Rodgers’s voice post it online. While Rodgers hoped the video would entertain family and friends, she never expected the clip to go viral and TODAY Moms in an email. There have been sick people, people with disabled children, people down on their luck, heartbroken people reach out to us and express their love for our daughter. As a parent, it just gives you hope that our little Grace can make a difference no matter her disability. Rodgers said the outpouring has felt like “a big hug from the world” after several challenging years. Keep the love going and watch Grace’s heartwarming performance below.
January 23, 2014

Toddler Overcomes Spine-Crushing Dwarfism to Become Internet Singing Sensation

By: ABCNEWS When she was born, doctors said  The video has been seen by nearly 350,000 people around the world. Grace has a rare form of dwarfism called Conradi-Hunermann, which means she's short, and her legs are uneven in length. But there is nothing small about her voice. Now her mother, Angie Rodgers, 40, has already been asked to have Grace sing at a veterans’ benefit in Kansas and at another event in Virginia. Rodgers said there was an even bigger project in the works that she couldn't yet discuss. So far, Grace, who is intellectually bright but cannot walk, has overcome just about every obstacle thrown at her. Her mother said Grace could sing even before she began to talk. “Yesterday I got a call from a doctor who said he thought it would be hard for her walk,” said Rodgers, a middle-school science teacher. “I was told she would never hear very well. I have been told so many things that have proven to be wrong, so I take it with a grain of salt.” Conradi-Hunermann syndrome is a rare genetic disorder characterized by skeletal malformations, skin abnormalities and cataracts, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. It is caused by an X-linked dominant trait that occurs almost exclusively in girls; boys born with the syndrome usually do not survive. An estimated one in 400,000 newborns is born with the disorder. Symptoms and severity can vary among individuals, but cataracts, spinal curvature, sparse or coarse scalp hair and scaling of the skin are common. Rodgers said she’d had three miscarriages before Grace was born and expected she would lose her too. When Rodgers was three months pregnant, doctors noticed skeletal anomalies in an ultrasound, which suggested dwarfism. “Doctors tried to get us to abort her over five different times,” said Rodgers, who also has a 16-year-old son from a previous marriage. “It never was an option for us. Born by cesarean section, Grace experienced meconium aspiration, a life-threatening condition that occurs when a baby inhales its first stool during or before delivery. “I didn’t know if she would make it – they didn’t tell me anything,” said Rodgers. “I never saw her for the first 12 hours and when I did, she had scales on three-quarters of her body. The only place with no scales were her face and butt. They fell off in three months.” Grace failed her hearing test and had detached retinas in her eyes. “Her back looked like a rainbow and bowed out,” said her mother. “Her vertebrae were shaped like triangles pushing into her spinal cord.” According to a spokesperson for the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center, life expectancy for those with Conradi-Hunermann syndrome is no shorter or longer than for anyone else, “as long as you don’t have severe scoliosis that affects heart and lung function.” Grace almost died in 2012 after complicated surgery to fuse her malformed spine when her lungs nearly collapsed. “There was something like shelving in her throat and they couldn’t even get a tube in her windpipe," said Rodgers.” She was in the hospital for 22 days and in a body cast for six months. But it was then, at about 16 months, that the little girl picked up a knack for singing. “I would lay her head in my lap in bed and sing with her and she would play with my hair,” said Rodgers. “It seemed like she was bound and determined to sing and do nothing else. “For someone who failed a hearing test, she sings well,” she said. “Summer rolled around and she was singing the whole first verse of ‘Amazing Grace’ – loud and proud. You know the line: 'I was blind, but now can see.’” Since then, Grace has had four eye surgeries for cataracts and glaucoma. Now, with her glasses, she can accurately read an eye chart. “Her doctor is amazed by her – she’s a pistol,” said Rodgers, who wants the same life for her daughter as her teenage son enjoys. “Hopefully, she will have a relationship with God, which is a priority in our family, and some type of vocation she loves to do.” “I don’t want her to think she can’t be successful in life,” she said. “Just because she has a disability, doesn’t mean she can’t dream big. She is very smart and just because she is very small, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a purpose.”
February 5, 2014

Three-year-old Kentucky YouTube sensation makes Big Apple debut

Grace Anna Rodgers, the Casey County 3-year-old who has captured millions of hearts around the world by singing in videos posted on social media, swiped additional hearts when she made her national TV debut recently on the Katie Couric show.
“It’s crazy. I’ve never seen the likes of anything like it in my life. It’s a little overwhelming,” said Angie Rodgers, Grace Anna’s mother.
The little girl, born with a rare form of dwarfism called Conradi Hunemann Syndrome, uses her beaming smile and voice in singing the Star Spangled Banner and Amazing Grace on YouTube videos and on her Facebook page.
As news of Grace’s talent and love for singing has spread in all forms of media, the offers to appear on TV shows and other events are pouring in to the family who lives in the South Fork area of Casey County.
Angie said that on Jan. 24, a producer from the Katie Couric show in New York City contacted her at school where she teaches in Russell County to ask if the family ― dad Jeff, and big brother, Isaiah Seth Spears, would appear on the show the following Tuesday.
“One of the producers saw Grace Anna’s video and they e-mailed about contact information on Friday,” Angie said. ‘We want you on the show. We think Grace is a little hero and she’s really inspiring to us,’” Angie said she was told by a producer.
The family flew to NYC on Monday and checked into their room at the Empire Hotel.
Jeff said that the show gave each family member $50 per day for food and the next morning, tired from the whirlwind journey, they decided to order room service at the hotel.
“That breakfast ending up costing us $150,” Jeff said, adding that he and Angie had eggs, potatoes, and breakfast meat, Grace had a fruit tray, and Isaiah got the biggest surprise of all ― $25 for pancakes and sausage.
“They were blueberry pancakes and I don’t even like blueberry pancakes,” he said. “They made me feel bad for not eating $25 worth of pancakes but I ate them,” Isaiah said, smiling.
At noon, a limousine chauffeured the family to the studio in Manhattan where they began the ordeal of preparing for the show by meeting with the producers and getting makeup and hair done.
At the appointed time, the family was ushered onstage where they met Couric during a commercial break.
“It was surreal. I told her I was really nervous and she said, ‘Look at me and talk to me, you’re just talking to me,’” Couric told Angie. And, it wasn’t only Angie who was nervous.
“I was so nervous that I could hear my own heart beating,” Isaiah said.
When the show went live with the family seated on stage, the thunderous applause upset Grace but it didn’t take her long to get settled down.
Angie, Jeff, and Isaiah fielded questions about Grace’s ministry to the world using her music and personality to lift hearts and sagging spirits.
A special surprise during the almost five minute segment was the appearance of fellow Kentuckian and country music start Naomi Judd, who was born in Ashland.
As Judd presented Grace with a huge basket of gifts, she began softly singing Amazing Grace to which Grace said, “Don’t sing that.”
Laughing, Angie said that Grace considers that her song because she sings it all the time.
After the show and a photo session with Couric and Judd, the family was whisked to the airport for the flight back to Kentucky.
Movie deal
Angie said that an announcement will be made this week about a special movie documentary featuring Grace that will be filmed in Nashville.
“Where is the Love?” is produced by Elizabeth Anne Martin and will be a series of uplifting stories of people who have overcome adversity.
And, based on talks with Martin, Angie said that other TV offers will more than likely be forthcoming, including a film about the Rodgers’ family.
Still, Grace seems to take it all in stride.
“I don’t think it bothers her one bit. I think she enjoys the attention. She likes attention and she likes to sing,” Angie said.
The video with Grace Anna appearing on the Katie Couric show can be seen at 
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