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'Rally for Rachael'
Beloved student fighting for life at Egleston hospital
Rachael Shelp 1
Dawson County High School student Rachael Shelp, 14, is currently recovering from blood clots in her lungs at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. - photo by For the Dawson County News

A Dawson County High School student is fighting the biggest battle of her life this week, having been hospitalized Aug. 2 with blood clots in her lungs.

An entire community is rallying behind 14-year-old Rachael Shelp, who is recovering from complications of blood clots at Egleston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta.

According to Shelp’s mom, Kathy, Rachael had a procedure Aug. 3 to try and help dissolve the blood clots.

There were complications at the end of the procedure, and to give her heart and lungs time to recover and rest, she was placed on a heart and lung bypass machine.

The spunky teenager has been lighting up the lives of her family, friends, teachers and therapists since she was born. Diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Shelp has a gift of warming the hearts of others, something she hasn’t stopped doing even as she lays sedated in a hospital bed.

An outpouring of support has been given to Kathy Shelp as she updates the community on Facebook.

“I've known Rachael since she was two years old,” said Nickole Saladin, a friend of Shelp’s family, in a post on Facebook. “This girl is a sassy version of Jesus. She loves so deeply and makes others better because they know her.”

“Miss Rachael is nothing short of a ray of sunshine, with a giggle that could just make you melt!” said Caitlin Dopheide, a friend of Shelp’s. “I can't even count how many times we've acted out scenes from Frozen, always switching off between Anna and Elsa. Rachael's love for life and everyone around her knows no bounds.”

Rachael's love for life and everyone around her knows no bounds.
Caitlin Dopheide

Having lived in Dawson County and attended school here all her life, teachers at Shelp’s former school have also rallied around her at her time of need, with one teacher setting up a GoFundMe donation page to help with the unexpected medical expenses.

Erin Grigsby, who taught Shelp at Dawson County Middle School, set up the page.

“If you haven't had the pleasure of meeting Rachael you are truly missing out,” Grigsby wrote on the page. “Her extra chromosome is what makes her amazing!”

Grigsby said Tuesday that Shelp is one of the sweetest girls she’s ever met.

“She always has a smile on her face when I see her,” Grigsby said. “I will always remember that she thought my last name was “Crispy” and she would call me “Crispy Bacon!” There will always be a special place in my heart for Rachael.”

Donations can be made at

As of press time, $1,910 has been raised by 41 donors.

So far, it seems the hundreds of prayers Shelp has been receiving have done their work.

Kathy Shelp said the clots began to shrink Aug. 5, and Monday afternoon, doctors took Rachael off the ECMO heart pump to see if her heart could function on it's own.

So far, the results have been optimistic.

“The cannulas are out and Rachael is off ECMO,” Kathy Shelp said Monday evening. “She will be sedated for a while because she has to stay still. Her blood pressure is still high, but better high than low. Tomorrow we will start dealing with her heart and blood issues. One huge hurdle over, more smaller (hopefully) to come.”

As of press time, Kathy said Rachael was doing well and that machines are still helping her to breathe.

Shelp’s three older brothers also went through Dawson County schools; Christopher, 17, is currently a senior at DCHS and a star cross country runner; Nathan, 20, is a junior at the University of Georgia; and Adam, 22,is attending graduate school at George Mason University in Virginia.

Kathy said she is overwhelmed by the support she’s received from the community during the toughest battle of her daughter’s young life.

“Thank you everyone for your prayers, it has been so comforting to me and so amazing to have you lift us up,” Kathy said Monday. “Please continue to pray for answers to the other issues left to deal with and healing.”