IF YOU GO
What: Pickin' for Veta bluegrass benefit concert
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Lindsay Street Hall, 901 Lindsay St.
Admission: Free, but donations accepted
To contribute items to the silent auction, call 322-9000. Proceeds will be donated to the Harris family to help with medical bills.
ON THE BILL
Slim Pickin's Bluegrass, Tiffany Taylor, Barefoot Nellie and Co., Timbre Fox
Since her birth, Veta Harris has spent about half her life in a hospital.
Shortly after being delivered on Nov. 20 at Erlanger hospital, nurses noticed that the levels of oxygen in Veta's bloodstream were lower than normal. She soon was diagnosed with double outlet right ventricle, a congenital heart defect in which blood from both arteries flows into and out of only one side of the heart.
As soon as a helicopter crew could be assembled, Veta and her parents, Mysti and Ben Harris, were flown to the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt so surgeons could install a shunt, a tube that would even out the blood flow to her heart.
"It pretty well takes the best day of your life and turns it into a nightmare really fast," her father recalls.
Veta and her parents spent the next 48 days at the Nashville facility, where doctors monitored her condition while she was supported by a ventilator and feeding tubes.
The surgery was successful, and the family returned to Chattanooga on Jan. 7. They continue to see doctors at Erlanger, however, and Veta faces the prospect of two more surgeries in the next several years, the first in just a few months.
In all, Harris says he estimates that, before state insurance compensation is taken into account, Veta's treatment already has cost "at least $1 million." The total cost is still being billed and is likely to be much higher, he says.
Help is on the way, however, with several local musicians joining together Thursday for Pickin' for Veta, a benefit concert at Lindsay Street Hall to offset the family's medical expenses.
Long before Veta was born, Mysti and Ben Harris were avid fans of local bluegrass artists. Three years ago at the Boxcar Pinion Memorial Bluegrass Festival on Raccoon Mountain, the then-newly married couple camped next to Slim Pickin's, an up-and-coming bluegrass group.
Over the next few years, they attended every Slim Pickin's show within driving distance and socialized with its members at numerous events near their home in Red Bank.
Fire fighter and Slim Pickin's banjo player Randy Steele says the loyalty and support of the Harris family, whom he describes as "super fans," deserves to be returned in kind.
"There have been more than a half dozen shows where it's been nothing but our wives and girlfriends and Ben and Mysti," Steele says. "They're definitely part of that family. We wanted to turn that support around and give it right back to them."
The concert will be free, but donations will be accepted by cash or through credit charges on-site. A silent auction also will be held, and all proceeds will go directly to help defray the Harris family's medical expenses.
Except for a feeding tube in her nose, Harris says his daughter looks like any other three-month old. He and Veta's mother are trying to take things step by step and avoid being overwhelmed by what lies ahead.
In the meantime, he says, the support of friends, family and the musicians they love is a great help.
"[They are] our giant crutch we've been able to lean on," he says. "We're overwhelmed by this. We've never seen such kindness and giving."