Published December 25. 2012 4:00AM Updated December 26. 2012 12:05AM
Groton - When people first meet Devyn, they're a little timid. "People kind of hold back," said her mother, Amanda Phelps. "But the minute Devyn smiles or wheels over to shake hands or is laughing at her sisters and wanting to play, instantly they warm up. She can draw people in to want to interact. It happens all the time."
Devyn, who is now 5, was born with a rare genetic disorder, Apert syndrome, which is characterized by the premature fusion of certain skull bones and prevents the skull from growing normally.
Mark and Amanda Phelps know how expensive it can be to commute from their home in Groton to Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital - Devyn was born prematurely and has had 23 surgeries at the hospital so far.
They decided to create a Facebook page to raise money for other parents with children at the hospital. While brainstorming ideas for a name, they thought of Devyn's charming nature. And they consider her and her twin sister, Dylan, lucky. They were born on July 7, 2007.
The name "Devyn's Charm" seemed like a natural choice.
Mark Phelps, a sonar technician in the Navy, said he and his family have insurance through the military that has provided for "awesome medical care." But, he said, they "hemorrhaged money" traveling to the hospital.
"That's the last thing you're worried about, that it's $12 a day to park, and gas is expensive," said Phelps, who is currently assigned to a Virginia-class submarine under construction at Electric Boat, the North Dakota.
Another family whose child was at the hospital once gave Dunkin' Donuts gift cards to the other parents. Others leave behind extra parking vouchers.
"On a day when everything is not going your way with your child, something as simple as a Dunkin' Donuts gift card can change your outlook," Amanda Phelps said.
The Phelpses launched the Facebook page Dec. 10 with the goal of raising $1,000 by March to give a care package with a gas card, restaurant gift certificate and parking vouchers to 10 military families with children at the hospital.
These incidental expenses cost about $100 each time Devyn is in the hospital for three days. Her next major surgery will involve bringing out her cheekbones and opening the airway behind her nose. She can't walk by herself, so she uses a wheelchair and other mobility devices.
Dylan does not have any health issues. The twins have an older sister, Delaney, 7.
Devyn is in preschool at S. B. Butler Elementary and a Girl Scout in Groton. She loves playing with her sisters and listening to classic rock, especially Jimmy Buffet.
Her parents admit they may have tried to influence her taste in music. Their oldest is named after the Buffett song, "Delaney Talks to Statues."
The Phelpses have already nearly reached their fundraising goal, and they're considering continuing the project to help even more families.
"We're always looking for a way for Devyn to make a difference and for our family to help other people," Amanda Phelps said. "We know there are other families there who could use a good day. They could use a smile."
"And," Mark Phelps added, "a little luck."
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DevynsCharm.