Dana and Arkell Graves felt compelled to give back after their son Kaleb spent nearly a year in the NICU

By Rachel DeSantis Wendy Grossman Kantor
November 06, 2019 10:00 AM
Arkell, Kaleb and Dana Graves (L-R)

Arkell and Dana Graves had suffered through four miscarriages and a stillbirth during their 17 years of marriage, so it was only natural that the intense joy they felt in 2015 when they learned Dana was 18 weeks pregnant went viral.

“Arkell was just boo-hooing and crying,” Dana, 45, tells PEOPLE of their memorable video, in which she told her husband the happy news with a bag of burger buns and an ultrasound photo on top of the couple’s oven.

Their optimism was tested, however, when Dana gave birth to son Kaleb almost five months premature on Oct. 20, 2015, landing him in the neonatal intensive care unit at Richmond’s VCU Medical Center for nearly an entire year.

“Going up there every day, and seeing others that were in need, we were a little fortunate to take care of different things,” Arkell, 45, tells PEOPLE. “When we saw others that were less fortunate than ourselves, [and] when my wife brought up the idea to help others, I thought it was a good idea.”

That good idea developed into Baby Buns 4 Life, a donation-based foundation launched by the couple while Kaleb was still hospitalized in order to ease the burden on other parents taking care of children in NICUs.

Dana Graves (far right)

“I don’t care if it’s one day or 300 days, when you have a child in NICU every day seems like eternity,” Dana says. “I wanted people to have a sounding board and feel that they could come to someone to talk about [it] and have someone relate to them.”

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The foundation provides parents with Baby Buns Blessing Bags that are stocked with snacks, lotions and hand sanitizers, plus catered meals, tiny outfits, hats and blankets.

“We received so much love worldwide,” Arkell says. “The prayers, the cards, it was only right for us to give back.”

RELATED VIDEO: ‘Baby Buns’ Goes Home After 355 Days in Intensive Care

Meanwhile, little Kaleb, now nearly 4 years old, continues to make progress, and remains “the most joyful, happy little boy” despite 14 active diagnoses, including cerebral palsy and tracheomalacia.

“I don’t see the deficiency. I just see a perfect little boy,” says Dana, who adds that she has faith that her son, who uses a wheelchair, will one day walk.

RELATED: ‘Baby Buns’ Mom on Hardest Day in the NICU: ‘I Saw My Son Die in My Arms’

The couple — who also share an adopted son named Keelyn, 17 — still call their bundle of joy Baby Buns, and recently sent him off to preschool for the first time.

“I’m just looking forward to him progressing every day,” Arkell says. “I just see so much changes in him every day.”

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