The Miracle Tree in the Press
Winston-Salem Journal - May 26, 2019 - written by Tim Clodfelter
More than 30 years ago, Austin Highsmith Garces’ father, Johnny Highsmith, prayed for a miracle — and got one. And now, Garces has turned that story into a children’s book.
Garces, an actress from Winston-Salem, will be at Bookmarks in downtown Winston-Salem on Wednesday to read and sign copies of the book, “The Miracle Tree.” The book tells the faith-based story of a little girl who faces a scary hospital visit.
When she was about 2½, right before Christmas, young Austin took a nap and woke up with an eye swollen shut and turning purple.
“Mom took me over to Forsyth Pediatrics, and they sent me right to the ER (at what is now Brenner Children’s Hospital). They did an MRI, and my eye was being pushed out of its socket and over to the left, a very aggressive case of post-orbital cellulitis.”
That condition, which she described as a localized severe infection behind the eye, led to emergency surgery, with her family being told she had a 50-50 chance of survival.
“Dad went down to the Christmas Tree in the children’s ward and prayed,” she said. He asked God to save his little girl, promising to return to the hospital every year if He did.
She survived, and since then returning to that tree has become a Highsmith family tradition, even now that she has been in Los Angeles for almost 16 years. She arranges a return visit every year during the holiday season.
“We have not missed a year in 35 years, we have gone to that Christmas Tree and prayed,” she said.
In her acting career, Garces is perhaps best known for the “Dolphin Tale” films, family-friendly movies in which she plays a member of an aquarium rehab team that helps nurse injured dolphins back to health. Those films led her to work with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, which in turn led to visits to children’s hospitals. While there, she shared her childhood story with young patients, who were encouraged by the fact that she had recovered fully from her childhood illness. Her costars encouraged her to share the story further.
“I thought, why not write a children’s book to help these kids, and as a gift to my dad,” she said. “It can give sick kids visibility and maybe help them and inspire them.” Thinking back to how scary her hospital stay was, she wanted a way to reassure children that they weren’t alone in such experiences and could endure.
She originally thought about getting somebody to illustrate the book for her, “but I’m a very impatient person,” she said. “And I thought, I’m an art major, why don’t I draw it?” She ran the illustrations by her husband, actor J. Teddy Garces, and her mother, Dawn, but kept the project a secret from her dad until the big reveal last Father’s Day.
“The Miracle Tree” was released on Easter Sunday by Doce Blant Publishing. She wanted to come back to Winston-Salem, where the story is set, for one of her first book signings.
Garces plans to continue writing and illustrating children’s books, with several ideas for inspirational stories in mind, and hopes to eventually turn “Miracle Tree” into a live-action children’s movie. “I feel we have a shortage of children’s films,” she said. “We want to show it to sick kids so they can feel like they’re seeing themselves.”
She also continues to have a busy acting career, having starred in the recent “Scream: The TV Series” and guest roles on such shows as “SEAL Team,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “NCIS,” “Big Love” and “Criminal Minds.” She frequently appears in cable TV-movies, ranging from wholesome holiday fare such as “Hometown Christmas” to films with such lurid titles as “Nanny Seduction” and “Psycho Granny.”
She occasionally hears people make derogatory comments about Lifetime or Hallmark movies, but she is quick to defend them.
“There’s a lot worse you could do with your life than give people entertainment and joy,” she said. “People love them. With Hallmark, people want something they can just sit back and relax and enjoy with their family and that makes them happy. If I’m going to contribute to that, absolutely, bring it on.”
Watch Austin on Spectrum News 1 Socal
April 19, 2019 - Austin was interviewed by Spectrum News 1 SoCal anchor Lisa McRee about her children’s book, “The Miracle Tree.”
Winston-Salem Journal - April 21, 2019 - written by Tim Clodfelter
Austin Highsmith Garces, an actress from Winston-Salem, has appeared in such movies as the “Dolphin Tale” films and “Gangster Squad,” TV shows including “Scream: The Series” and “Big Love,” and various TV-movies. And now, she can add “children’s book author” to her resume.
She wrote and illustrated “The Miracle Tree,” which is being released today. The book, based on her own experience, follows a little girl who has to go into the hospital at Christmastime for emergency surgery. She faces her fears, thanks to family and faith.
“I wrote the book for sick kids and their families to try and make the hospital less scary,” she said. “I have also created a 501c3 charity called ‘The Miracle Tree Foundation’ that a portion of my book proceeds will go toward.
“The foundation will help research and treatment for kids with rare diseases and illnesses. My writing partner and I are hoping to make this into a movie so that we can help even more children and give visibility to a larger number of rare illnesses and conditions.”
The book is being released as a 24-page children’s book, in hardcover and softcover, and will also be available on Kindle, Nook and other devices.
April welcomes actress and children's advocate Austin Highsmith Garces' latest project, "The Miracle Tree" -- a children's book written about her personal battle against a rare childhood illness.
Based on the true story of Austin Highsmith Garces' experience as a 2-year-old little girl, "The Miracle Tree" traces the author's sudden thrust into the scary realm of hospitals and surgery. Diagnosed with a rare condition, post-orbital cellulitis, Austin was given only a 50-50 chance of survival. Highlighted in the story is a promise made by her father to return to the hospital's Christmas Tree each year to thank God for the miracle of saving little Austin's life.
"I decided to write 'The Miracle Tree' to give kids in the hospital visibility and to hopefully inspire them by sharing the story of my own time in the hospital," Highsmith Garces states.
Austin Highsmith Garces' first children's book, "The Miracle Tree," anticipates sales catapulting with the announcement this month, pending release on April 21, 2019, in hardbound, paperback and e-book editions. Illustrated by Ms. Highsmith Garces, the story touches the hearts of parents and children everywhere. The author continues to seek ways to support sick kids by generously donating a portion of the proceeds to "The Miracle Tree Foundation" for children.
"We anticipate an exciting year ahead, as Austin Highsmith Garces continues to rally behind support for kids dealing with childhood illnesses. "The Miracle Tree" exemplifies the generosity and compassion that went behind Austin's story," Marti Melville, CEO of Doce Blant Publishing announced.
WXII news 12 interview with text
"The Weekend with Ed Kalegi"
Written by Suzy Fielders
In December 1983, 2-year-old Austin Highsmith found herself at Brenner Children’s Hospital with a serious diagnosis of post-orbital cellulitis. Years later, the now-famous actress and Winston-Salem native turned her story into an illustrated children’s book to inspire other children struggling with illnesses.
“My main hope for this book was that kids who have faced medical challenges would see themselves in the book,” says Highsmith, who’s known today for her role in both “Dolphin Tale” films. “I [once] saw a little girl in a hospital room and it was like looking at my baby pictures. She was the same age I was when I was in the hospital, and I knew right away that she had the same condition I had as a child. I told her mother I had the same thing when I was her daughter’s age. She started crying and repeatedly asked if I was ‘OK now,’ and was so relieved when I told her I was.”
The book, “The Miracle Tree,” details Highsmith’s hospital stay as a child, and how a very special Christmas tree brought her and her family hope. In opening up her experience to a wider audience, Highsmith can now extend hope to families across the nation.
And according to reviews on Amazon, it’s working.
“This story brought me to tears. It was so beautifully written that I could relate to it from a mother’s point of view,” writes Amazon reviewer DQ. “If you have had a little one in the hospital or know your little one will be there soon, this is a must buy. There is hope so much greater than you could ever imagine.”
Earlier this year during a book tour for “The Miracle Tree,” Highsmith made a pit stop in Winston-Salem, where she conducted multiple readings, including one at Bookmarks.
“The reading at Bookmarks will forever stand out as a huge mile marker in my life. There were so many people there that I haven’t seen in years, each one of them so incredibly dear to my heart,” she says. “It’s difficult to put into words just how much that night meant to me.”
Being at Bookmarks also reminded Highsmith of her younger days, and going to bookstores with her mom. She remembers begging her mom for the next book in both “The Boxcar Children” and “The Baby-Sitters Club” series. Highsmith says, “I hope bookstores like Bookmarks continue to thrive so kids can have that same experience.”
The goal of her book was always to inspire children struggling with health problems and the hospital visits being ill often entails.
“A friend of mine has a 4-year-old son who had two open heart surgeries before the age of 2. She sent me a video of her mom reading my book to her son, and while she was reading to him he gasped and pointed at the book and said, ‘That’s me.’ I couldn’t stop crying,” Highsmith says. “That video was a full circle moment and it reminds me to keep pushing forward.”
If you missed her readings in May, the actress hopes to visit Winston-Salem near the end of the year during the holidays to do more readings of “The Miracle Tree.”
“It will be so meaningful for me to share my story in the city and during the holiday [my illness] happened,” she says. “My only hope is the story continues to inspire other children and their families.”