Family celebrates baby’s survival with barrel race event

Four-year-old Bailey Stevens was born a fighter.

After being diagnosed with a life-threatening bacteria at 4 days old, Bailey continued to beat the odds while being cared for at Spring Valley Hospital, 5400 S. Rainbow Blvd.

“The staff just took the ride with us and got emotionally involved with our family,” said Bailey’s mother, Marla Stevens. “They’re just amazing. I have nothing but positive things to say.”

As a way of giving thanks, the Stevens family plans the fourth annual Buckles and Barrels for Bailey barrel race event from 8 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Sept. 5-7 at the South Point, 9777 Las Vegas Blvd. South.

All proceeds are set to benefit the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, which cares for about 380 babies each year who are born premature or diagnosed with birth defects and illnesses, according to Gretchen Papez, hospital spokeswoman.

“We were overwhelmed by (the Stevenses’) generosity and the lengths they’ve taken to create such a successful … fundraiser,” Papez said. “Each year it keeps getting bigger, and they do this in addition to their full-time jobs.”

Born five weeks premature in July 2010, Bailey was small but seemed healthy. However, within a few days, the Stevenses received a call that Bailey had contracted necrotizing enterocolitis and was on antibiotics.

The bacteria causes tissue death in the bowel and is the second-highest cause of death in premature infants.

“By the time we got to the hospital, she looked pretty sick to me,” Stevens said. “By 6 that night, they had to put her on a ventilator. By 9, her bowel perforated.”

Doctors agreed to perform emergency surgery but told the couple to “kiss Bailey goodbye” because her survival rate was 12 percent.

“When I leaned in to give her a kiss, she grabbed my finger,” Stevens said. “I thought she was saying, ‘Goodbye,’ but she was actually showing me how strong she is.”

Despite losing 70 percent of her small intestine, Bailey made it through surgery.

“For the next couple weeks, it seemed like they never came to us with good news,” Stevens said. “They would say things like, ‘Her kidneys will probably shut down because it’s too much stress for her little body,’ but boy, that kid just kept fighting back.”

Bailey spent more than 100 days in the NICU on ventilators, IVs and monitors. For an hour a day, the nurses allowed the couple to hold Bailey wire- and tube-free.

In October 2010, Bailey returned home on a feeding tube and IV. Doctors said she would probably need a liver transplant because she was receiving most of her nutrients from the tubes.

“We were bound and determined that wouldn’t happen, so we slowly started her back up on her feeds,” Stevens said. “They expected her to be on a feeding tube until she was 5, but we actually stopped using it a week before our first event when she was about 15 months old.”

As a family immersed in rodeo and riding horses, the couple created the charity event to show their gratitude toward the hospital. They wrote letters to Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point, to gain support.

“We had just been given such a miracle and thought there had to be something we could do,” Stevens said. “You can’t just look up to the sky and say, ‘Hey, thanks a lot,’ and move on with your life. It shouldn’t work that way.”

About 1,100 contestants from six states competed in last year’s event. Sign-ups started in May, and riders of all levels and from all associations were accepted.

“My family usually pays a couple thousand out of pocket for this event,” Stevens said. “I mean, it’s important to me, and I want to give as much money as I can to the hospital, so there’s things that we just pay for.”

Within three years, the Stevens family has donated about $26,000 to the hospital’s NICU to help with the nurses’ education. This year, the hospital plans to use the donation to renovate its NICU waiting and parent rooms, Papez said.

“We spent a lot of time in that waiting room, and it is one of the most depressing places I’ve ever been,” Stevens said. “It never made me feel like we were going to get out of that place, so I told them it needs to be a happier place. The parents need somewhere that gives them some hope.”

Despite some side effects of the surgery, Bailey lives a normal life. She enjoys riding horses, chasing cows and playing with her dogs.

“Our plan was to have two (children), but after this, there’s no way,” Stevens said. “They could never look at us and tell us, ‘This is why this happened to you,’ and that’s just something I’m not willing to roll the dice on again. We’ll just count our blessings and go on.”

Admission to watch the races is free. The Stevenses are seeking volunteers to help unload trailers Sept. 4.

For more information, visit or email

Contact Henderson View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at or 702-383-0403.

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