Morton’s Gameball Run Miracle Family Story: Meet the Sauder Family

Staff Writer
East Peoria Times-Courier
The Sauder Family. From left to right:
Abram, Emerson, Jeff, Chelby, Chase and Aubrey Sauder

MORTON — The Morton High School boys’ basketball team and Coach Matt Franks are hosting the 6th annual Gameball Run event to raise money and awareness for Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Each school in District 709 has selected a Miracle Family to represent the services provided by Children’s Hospital and the impact it has on Morton families. To financially support Gameball Run, donate online at Each school is hosting events, with all proceeds going to Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

The Miracle Family representing Lincoln Elementary School is the Sauder family — Abram, Emerson, Jeff, Chelby, Chase, and Aubrey Sauder. This is their story.

Early in 2009, feeling blessed to have two healthy biological children, Jeff and Chelby Sauder felt called by God to pursue adoption. They anticipated adopting a healthy infant boy.

The Sauder family decided that International adoption would be a good route. Through doors opening and shutting, their expectations of a healthy infant boy started to change. After discovering that China had a huge need for families to adopt boys and girls with medical or special needs, the Sauders began the paperwork. 

“Our thoughts were to adopt a boy with medical needs that could be “fixed” and then move on with life,” said Chelby Sauder. “But God had different plans for us.”

In August of 2010, the Sauders completed all of the adoption paperwork and submitted it to China. Two weeks later, the adoption agency gave them Abram’s information — a 2-year-old boy diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries, a ventricular septal defect (VSD), and a narrow pulmonary artery. In other words, he had a complicated heart condition. 

“We had little information about his personality and nothing was mentioned if any surgeries had already been performed,” said Chelby Sauder. “Neither one of us had much medical knowledge, but we took his information to our pediatrician. My biggest question was “Can the Children’s Hospital take care of his condition?” After being reassured that they could, Jeff and I proceeded with the adoption.”

On Feb. 25, 2011, the family traveled 36 hours to Abram’s birth city in China. Two hours after arriving at the hotel, Abram, who was two-and-a-half years old, was united with the Sauder family.  “Even with his blue lips, fingers and toes (due to the lack of oxygen in his body) he was very busy and active,” said Chelby Sauder. “And by looking at him, it was obvious that he hadn’t had any surgeries.”  

Abram would run a few steps, stop and catch his breath and go again. To go up a set of stairs was too exhausting for him and someone would have to pick him up. “His condition should have been treated within his first year of life,” said Chelby Sauder.

After staying in China for two weeks and settling in back home, the Sauder family took Abram to a pediatrician for a checkup. Abram was quickly referred to the Congenital Heart Center at the Children’s Hospital. There, Abram underwent several diagnostic tests, such as an echocardiogram and a cardiac catheterization, to better assist the cardiac specialists to develop a treatment plan for Abram. Since he was nearing 3 years old and had never had any surgery, his heart condition was even more complicated.  

On June 3, 2011, the Sauder family took Abram to the hospital for his first open heart surgery. It was a long day. The surgeon put in a larger artificial valve that went to his pulmonary artery to help increase blood flow, patched his VSD (a hole in his lower heart chambers), created a small hole in the upper chambers to relieve the extra pressure his heart would be feeling as the blood was being re-directed, and installed a pacemaker. By the end of the long, yet productive day, the Sauders were able to see Abram. He was lying on the hospital bed sedated with pink toes, fingers and lips. After the surgery, Abram’s oxygen levels climbed to around 95 from 70 before the surgery.  

Throughout the following week in the hospital, the doctors and nurses realized that his upper chambers were experiencing too much pressure. So, one week later, Abram went back to the operating room for his second open heart surgery. This time, they needed to re-create the VSD (hole in his lower chamber). It was smaller than the original hole, but helped relieve some of the pressure his heart was experiencing. Finally, a little over a week later, Abram was released from the hospital.  

“Now, he had enough breath to walk up the stairs and to play a little harder,” said Chelby Sauder. “It was amazing to us to see his pink, normal colored lips, toes and finger tips.”

Over the next six years, Abram has gone back for regular checkups every six months. He’s had several cardiac catheterizations, to stent or balloon his pulmonary artery.  “Every time he’s given royal treatment by the team of doctors and nurses,” said Chelby Sauder. 

In April of 2017, Abram had another cardiac catheterization. What takes 1-2 hours for a person with a normal heart, took 4-5 hours for Abram.  After waiting for the completion of the procedure, the doctor informed Abram’s family that the stent was fractured and that Abram would need to have another open heart surgery to replace the six-year old valve as the pressure in his heart was building up again.  

On July 28, 2017, the Sauder family took Abram in for his third open heart surgery.  After a long 10 hours, Abram’s family was able to see him again. That night, his oxygen level dipped. Quickly the medical staff ordered a chest X-ray, which confirmed his right lung had collapsed. The surgeon came back and put in a chest tube to help drain the extra fluid, so that his lung would inflate. 

“Those first four days with Abram in the hospital were tough,” said Chelby Sauder. “By the end of the week, he was sitting on the edge of his bed, putting a Lego set together with a friend. Seven days after his surgery, he was discharged.”

“During this last stay at the hospital, several times I had to think, “If it wasn’t for this Children’s Hospital being so close, we couldn’t have adopted Abram,” said Chelby Sauders. “There’s no way we could have done this. The team of doctors and nurses were amazing! Not just their knowledge, but they really love their jobs. We’ve been extremely blessed by them and will continue to need them in the future with Abram’s health needs. Several nurses on the ICU floor that helped Abram in 2011 remembered us when we were back this past summer. This blew us away and shows how much they care about the people they serve.”