PHOENIX — In her 16 years of life, Grace Campbell made a big impression on a lot of people.
“Grace was really just special because she loved life,” said mom Christina Campbell. “She loved people. She loved being around people. She loved her family. She loved meeting people everywhere we would go.”
She managed to spot Charles Barkley while out and about -- twice. The last time was in February 2020 at Grace’s favorite place: Target.
“She kind of just looked at him and she's like, ‘Hi, Charles,’” Campbell said. “And he stopped, talked to her. The boys told him she had just gotten out of the hospital and he was great. He told her how proud he was of her and how to keep being strong.”
Grace was born with Kabuki Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that has developmental characteristics similar to autism. But Grace never let that stop her from dancing and having a good time, especially at Phoenix Suns games. She’d been going since she was a baby.
“She would dance along with the cheerleaders,” Campbell recalled. “We'd have to get there before the National Anthem because she loved the Star-Spangled Banner. And she had wanted to see that in its entirety.”
Even in the Suns' lean years, Campbell said her family kept renewing their season tickets because Grace was just having too much fun at the games.
“She would learn all the ushers’ names, all the fans around her. And she just she loved making people feel important, which I think is one of the things that has really impacted me, as a mom, to see how special she made so many people feel,” Campbell said.
But a cruel symptom of Kabuki Syndrome is a heart defect. Grace had her first open-heart surgery at just six months old. She had another at 14 years old.
“Grace was an amazing fighter. She was resilient,” Campbell said.
In December 2020 she became ill and was not getting better. Campbell feared it was COVID-19, but the diagnosis turned out to be an infection in Grace’s heart valve, and she said the situation quickly worsened.
“New Year's Eve, she had she suffered some strokes that just were unsurvivable and so that's the day that we had to say goodbye to our little Dancing Queen,” Campbell said.
But on the same day the family returned home from the hospital, they received an email with a video message from the Suns. Players Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton, Mykal Bridges, and Langston Galloway sent words of encouragement to Grace, not knowing that she wouldn’t survive to hear them. But it is something that the Campbell family will never forget.
“She was everybody's cheerleader. So, to have the roles reversed and everybody cheering for her, it was pretty incredible,” she said.
Now as the Suns play in the NBA Finals, the family is reflecting on how much Grace loved them and how much their kindness meant during the darkest of times.
“A video doesn't take away the loss of someone so special. But just the kindness that was shown to complete strangers because of Grace, it really did help us,” Campbell said.