Buford girl benefits from swim team's efforts

When the King family relocated from Nashville, Tenn., to Buford five years ago, it was not an easy transition. They had to give up good jobs and their hometown, and they didn't have any friends in the Atlanta area. But in return, they received better medical care for their 10-year-old daughter, Olivia.

Born with a rare form of cystic fibrosis that targets the liver, Olivia received her first liver transplant in 2000, at the age of 3. Since then, she has undergone countless tests, exams and procedures, and the family uprooted in 2002 in an effort to find better health care.

They were drawn to the area by Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, which has three hospitals in the city, as well as the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Cystic Fibrosis Center.

"Children's Healthcare was here, and that was what Olivia needed," said Barbara King, Olivia's mother. "But it was hard at first, we didn't know anyone."

In the last few months, Gwinnett has finally started to feel like home for the Kings. While they are not residents of Buford's Hidden Falls subdivision, they have become a part of its community.

"The community has just embraced us, and honestly, it's so overwhelming," Barbara King said.

As founder of the Hidden Falls swim team, Bill Clark has used the team as an avenue to raise money for cystic fibrosis research for several years. When a common friend asked Barbara King to speak about living with a child with the genetic disease at a May swim team parent meeting, the team's fundraising efforts became focused on the liver transplant Olivia desperately needs.

"Instead of raising funds for research, as we had done the last two years, we decided to raise funds for the family," Clark said. "The kids, all of us, are loving it. The fundraising is all they talk about."

The girl next door

Despite her illness, Olivia is just like any other 10-year-old girl. She takes ballet lessons, she goes to Vacation Bible School, and she is a member of several clubs. The only difference is in her stamina - Olivia becomes tired more easily than normal kids.

"We can't live our life around this disease, and we try to live like everyone else. Olivia is amazing, she is just a regular kid," said Barbara, her voice shaking with tears. "But she is so strong and so brave. She is, without a doubt, my hero."

Clark and the Kings were not acquainted prior to this partnership. They were not neighbors. They were not friends. They were not coworkers. Yet, as fate would have it, these strangers have become linked through a common goal of trying to save Olivia's life.

It wasn't until few weeks after Barbara King spoke at the swim team meeting that the Kings learned of Clark's efforts to help their family.

"When our common friend told me, I just kept asking, 'What? What do you mean?' It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that he was doing so much to help us," Barbara King said. "Bill is such a kind man, with such a giving and warm heart. I've never met anyone else like him. This is truly an act of God. It is a real-life miracle."

Olivia is not able to swim for the Hidden Falls team, but the team has included her as an honorary member and she is featured in the team photo. Getting to know Olivia and her family has made the swim team's fundraising efforts even more poignant, he said.

"The Kings are so humble, so calm about the whole thing, and they are so grounded in prayer and Christ," Clark said. "This is a chance for the kids on the team to do something impactful, something higher than themselves and poignant. We're not the most competitive team in our league, but we have the biggest hearts. It's just the right thing to do."

Fundraising efforts

Under the direction of Clark, the swim team is trying to raise about $185,000 to pay for the living donor costs of the liver transplant surgery Olivia needs. The money will be used to cover the cost of testing potential donors, and will pay for the donor's transplant operation and any acquired hospital costs. Olivia's transplant procedure is covered under the Kings' insurance.

To raise money, the swim team is selling $10 raffle tickets, with prizes including a stay at an exclusive beach home, golf resort packages, gift baskets and Braves tickets. Drawings for the raffle will be held at the team's year-end pool party on July 12.

"We've had some very generous people donate some very cool prizes," Clark said. "But it's not about the prizes, it's just about saving a life. My family has already decided if we win that stay at the beach house, we're giving it to the Kings, because they deserve a vacation."

At the Hidden Falls team's most recent swim meet, held Thursday, $3,200 was raised through community efforts, in large part thanks to a $1,000 donation from Jim Cowart Residential, the developers of the Hidden Falls subdivision.

"(We) recognize the need to not only build communities, but neighborhoods where people are truly neighborly," said John Schiavone, president of Jim Cowart Residential. "The neighbors here really do know one another and spend a lot of time together. I think that is why so many people have come together to help Olivia, because these people care about one another and the community at large."

For more information about Olivia King and the swim team fund raising effort, visit www.oliviagking.com.