Like many other little kids, Kaleb Graves — a.k.a. Baby Buns — wants a bike for Christmas. However, this 4-year-old boy’s will be a special adaptive trike his therapists recommend.
Kaleb’s parents, Dana and Arkell Graves, suffered four miscarriages and a stillbirth before Dana learned she was 18 weeks pregnant with Kaleb. Dana, now 45, recorded a video when she announced the pregnancy to her husband by leaving a package of hamburger buns with an ultrasound picture in the oven. The clip went viral in 2015.
People from around the world watched and prayed when Dana gave birth almost five months premature on Oct. 20, 2015. Baby Buns spent nearly a year in the NICU in Richmond, Virginia.
Tiffany Hoylman, 31, reached out to Dana on Facebook shortly after Kaleb was born. Dana and Hoylman — who lived only a few miles from Dana’s Dinwiddie home — have mutual friends and their husbands go to the same barber, Tiffany says.
“It’s a terrible feeling to not know if your children are gonna live,” says Tiffany, 31, whose twins were born at 26 weeks and spent four months in the NICU. “The NICU is just a whole different world. There’s not really a ton of people that really understand.”
Tiffany answered Dana’s questions, and soon the Graves were inspired to launch their non-profit Baby Buns for Life Network, all part of their effort to support other parents of NICU babies.
Tiffany was told that her children wouldn’t be able to walk or talk. Fortunately, doctors were wrong, and today her twins are healthy and happy.
“We’re very blessed and I try to give back,” she says.
The two moms have been Facebook friends and chatted online for the last four years. On Sunday Nov. 3, Tiffany moved her photography studio from the third floor of her home to the garage so that she could take free holiday photos of Kaleb — and have a chance to meet the Graves family face-to-face.
“They are just as awesome in person as they are on the internet,” Tiffany says. “Baby Buns is just hysterical. He’s got the best laugh and the best smile.”
When the day of the photo shoot arrived, Kaleb wasn’t feeling good and took a nap, says his mother, who admits that she wondered whether the photoshoot idea would work. Then his 17-year-old brother Keelyn, whom the Graves adopted, tickled him awake and got him laughing.
“His brother is able to get him to do anything,” Dana says. “They are truly inseparable.”
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Tiffany photographed Kaleb sleeping in his brother’s arms, laughing with him and riding in a sled. The resulting images are “absolutely adorable,” Dana says.
“I wasn’t expecting them to turn out the way they did,” she adds.
Dana loves Christmas: She decorates her home with 12 full-sized Christmas trees, two of which are in the boys’ bedrooms.
After 19 years, this will be the family’s last Christmas in their Dinwiddie home. They have to move to a house that Baby Buns can navigate with his physical limitations. He currently has 14 active diagnoses, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, pulmonary hypertension and cerebral palsy. Still, Dana describes him as a happy, joyful boy.
“Baby Buns, he was very bad off — he was the smallest baby in our state,” Tiffany says. “They went through some stuff. We didn’t think he was going to make it. To see a child like that in these pictures smiling, you’re literally looking at a miracle. It’s really cool to be able to capture that and show the world that there is hope for a micro-premie.”