Community comes together for Claire Byars

Andrew Cryer

WEST POINT – The rain may have moved the event indoors, but it did nothing to dampen the fervor of those who turned out to pray together for a little girl this weekend. Community members, family and friends of 2-year-old Claire “Bear” Byars gathered in the gymnasium of West Point High School for a candlelight prayer vigil for Claire and her family. Claire has a rare cancer and is receiving treatment in Philadelphia.

Family friend Gayla Robbins planned the event, along with Claire’s “Granny,” Melanie Jones, who is a longtime paramedic with Cullman Emergency Medical Services. Gayla Robbins and her husband, Ron Robbins, are a part of the local volunteer fire department community, where they met Claire’s parents, Jeff and Heather Byars. Jeff Byars is the EMS captain of the Bethsadia Volunteer Fire Department and is the EMS Officer for the Cullman County Fire Association. Heather Byars is an EMR (Emergency Medical Responder). She was the first licensed EMR in the state of Alabama. Both are currently on inactive duty due to the ongoing care for Claire.

“When Jeff and Heather came home with that little girl, I knew that they were the happiest mom and dad in the world,” said Gayla Robbins, opening the vigil. “In seven short months, the Byars family’s world was turned upside down. Claire has been going through chemo for most of her life.”

Claire has what was eventually correctly diagnosed as a sacrococcygeal germ cell teratoma (GCT). She has undergone surgery and multiple rounds of chemotherapy, along with proton therapy, high-dose chemotherapy and, most recently, a stem cell transplant.

Jeff Byars quit his job to care for Claire, and the two moved to Philadelphia for her treatment, while Heather Byars remains home, working to keep the family’s medical insurance. Heather Byars travels to Philadelphia almost every weekend.

Those in attendance at the vigil were asked to pray for the Byars family, both for Claire and for Heather, as Heather’s father, Melvin Brackman, passed away last week.

A Gofundme page has been set up for the family. Visit to learn more.


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