Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope was founded on May 21, 2014, by Robert and Nancy Gearhart in memory and honor of their daughter, Ansley. Born with a congenital heart defect, Ansley underwent emergency surgery and suffered numerous subsequent complications prior to coming home at three months with an optimistic prognosis. Heartbreakingly, Ansley contracted a respiratory virus and passed away at just four months old.
The Gearhart’s had previously experienced the trauma of dealing with a congenital heart defect with their older son, Austin; fortunately, his condition was not as serious as Ansley’s, and he made a full recovery. These two experiences resulted in countless days spent in a hospital over two hundred miles from their home and made the Gearhart’s understand and empathize with the financial burden faced by families of critically ill children. 2 Cor 1:4 is what drives their mission for Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope; they want to pay the comfort they received forward.
The Holy Spirit birthed the call of Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope in April 2014. Nancy had been praying since Ansley’s passing about how to use this tragedy to glorify God. She knew He would turn what was meant for evil into something beautiful, but this exceeded her expectations. To be able to bless families in Ansley’s name has meant more to her than she can express. She can truly empathize with the families and she has formed strong bonds with the families Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope has helped.
The Gearharts reside just outside of Savannah, Georgia. They have two sons, Andrew (24) and Austin (22). Andrew is serving our country in the Air Force and is stationed in Dover, Delaware. He is engaged to a beautiful young lady name Kelsie. Their wedding is scheduled for March 3, 2018. Austin is a full time college student in Brunswick, GA. He too is engaged to a wonderful young lady named Hannah. Their wedding will be May 19, 2018. Austin and Hannah often accompany Robert and Nancy when they meet with the families served by Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope. The family loves vacationing in the mountains and hiking for waterfalls. They are also all certified SCUBA divers, and often vacation in South Florida where they enjoy diving.
We have been through a great deal as a family. Austin was born in June of 1995, with a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. When he was just over a year old, he underwent open heart surgery to repair his defect in Augusta, GA. He suffered many complications and he arrested three days after his surgery. He underwent 45 minutes of CPR and was placed back on the heart-lung machine. It took three days for his heart to convert to a normal rhythm, but it finally did. God’s hand was evident throughout this time, in every detail. He is a walking miracle.
When Austin was in the hospital, we were a young military family. Austin was in the hospital all summer and Robert had to return to work. Unfortunately, life goes on even in the midst of tragedy. I stayed in Augusta. There were times when Robert could not come up on the weekends because we could not afford the gas. When he was there, we would often share the tray they brought up for me, because we couldn’t afford to eat out every meal. The financial strain put on families when their child is receiving care in another city is tremendous and as an organization, we aim to help ease that burden. We believe that no parent should have to worry about how they are going to pay for lunch or how they are going to afford to drive to where their child is being cared for when their child is critically ill.
In 2000, we became pregnant again. Initially, we were nervous about having another child with a heart defect, but the doctors put our fears at ease after numerous ultrasounds. And then we found out we were having a girl and literally grinned for the next 5 months! When Ansley was born on Father’s Day (June 17, 2001) our family felt complete. We had our two amazing sons and now we had the little girl we had wanted so desperately. We had 24 hours of pure bliss before the bottom fell out of our world. It was that next day that we were told Ansley had turned blue during her hearing test and that she was born with a very serious heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome. She was flown by jet to MCG in Augusta where she underwent open heart surgery when she was just 5 days old. She suffered many complications after her surgery and again we ended up spending all summer in Augusta. When we came home late that August, we were overwhelmed with her care. She was on numerous medications and a feeding pump and had a central line in place. Her prognosis was looking great though. At her last cardiology appt in October, her cardiologist was optimistic about a different third surgery she would have that would give her a better quality of life, more like Austin’s. We were ecstatic; it gave us hope. On October 24th, however, that all changed. Ansley turned blue after a breathing treatment for RSV. She was rushed to Memorial Hospital where she passed away. The grief we suffered as a family is indescribable. My arms literally ached; they were supposed to be holding my baby girl but they were empty. To be honest, I wanted to die. My heart hurt so deeply that I didn’t think I could take it any longer, but God was faithful and He carried me and my family through the worst storm of our lives. It was never easy, but we survived.
The Bible promises us in Genesis 50:20 that what was intended to harm me, God intended it for good. And in Romans 8:28 that the Lord works ALL things , not some things, for the good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. For 13 years I begged God to show me how he would turn this around for good. After experiencing the near loss of one child and the loss of another, I knew He was calling us to do something. Well, on April 23, 2014, I got my answer. The Holy Spirit kept me up most of the night revealing His plan and that is when Ansley’s Rainbows of Hope was born.
The Story Behind the Painted Rainbow
"Like the appearance of a RAINBOW in a cloud on a rainy day so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord..." (Ezekiel 1:26-28)
One afternoon, not long after losing Ansley, I had to take the boys to the pediatrician. It was just a routine check-up, but I was dreading it; I was terrified of seeing or hearing a baby. The sound of one crying triggered a panic attack. I was having them on a regular basis, even in the grocery store, and I knew I would likely encounter a baby there. They placed us in the trauma room that day because there were so many patients. My senses were on high alert, and the medicinal smell of the room reminded me of being in the hospital with Ansley. Just as we were about to leave, I heard a baby cry. If you have never experienced a panic attack, let me tell you they are crippling. My heart was racing; I was having trouble breathing; I couldn’t focus. It felt as if the room was closing in on me. I honestly felt like I was either dying or losing my mind. I had to get out of there. My eight-year-old, Andrew, had to handle checking us out as I dragged Austin, who was six at the time, out to the car. I cried most of the way home.
The boys were in the backseat, not understanding. All they knew was that their mom was sad all the time, and anything could make her cry. Andrew learned quickly that mentioning Ansley brought me to tears, so he held everything in. Austin drew pictures of her daily and hung them all over the house. As we were approaching our exit, this song started playing on the radio that we used to play for Ansley when she was in the intensive care unit at the children’s hospital in Augusta, Georgia. It was a song from her Baby Bach CD. We used to play it to help calm her heart rate and to help her rest (isn’t that exactly what I needed at that moment?). The fact that it was being played on the radio at that very moment was only God. Just then, Austin looked up at the sky and said, “Look, Mommy, there’s Ansley!” He was pointing to a perfect, tiny rainbow in the blue sky. There were no clouds that day; it was completely clear, yet there was a tiny rainbow. That rainbow may not have taken all of my pain away, but it gave me hope. Hope that I would see my baby girl again. The Bible tells us repeatedly that we will face storms in this life, but it also tells us in Deuteronomy 31: 6 that, “…Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Psalm 30:5 also promises that our, “…Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Emotionally, I was not yet ready for joy. I felt a tremendous amount of his sister died from complications related to her heart condition. Having his fear on top of mine was almost more than I could take.
In 2011, Austin had to have a pulmonary valve replacement. Austin’s surgery went extremely well. We were surrounded by friends and family. People had driven hundreds of miles to sit with us and pray. After only four days in the hospital for open heart surgery, we were on our way home! Praise God! But what happened on the way home, was just as amazing. As we were driving down the interstate, we encountered a HUGE rainbow that literally formed a bridge over the road. It was a beautiful day outside. To the left of the rainbow was a cloud in the form of an angel, but not just any angel. You see, our priest from our church had painted a picture of an angel painting a rainbow across the sky shortly after Ansley passed away. He called it Ansley and had given it to us. That cloud looked like the angel in his painting. We literally pulled over and got out of the car. No one said a word. To think the Lord would do something like this for us was beyond our comprehension. He loved us; he had not left us or forsaken us.
Seeking the Lord’s will for your life will bring so much healing and peace. For me, to know that Ansley’s story may bless a hurting parent gives me such joy. Her life, as short as it was, meant something! Since we started the foundation, we have had the opportunity to help many families. Meeting their financial need is only one piece of what we do. We meet with most of the families in person. We have walked in their shoes; we get it. We know what it is like to live in a hospital room for days, months on end. We spend time getting to know them, and we pray for them. I cannot tell you what a blessing it has been. The Lord does not allow us to walk through these storms in vain. He will use it to direct us to our ministry if we allow Him.