‘Opening their hearts’

First Posted: 7/22/2014

At first glance, Ella Skerel, 2, appears to be a perfectly happy and healthy child.

She loves to swing, play on the playground, go hiking with her daddy, wrestle with her older brothers and breathe in the scent of pretty flowers at the park.

But on some days, that breath comes short.

The almost 3-year-old will soon undergo her third heart surgery for Hypo-plastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital heart disease which prevents the left side of her heart from growing.

Co-workers of Ella’s father, Loring Skerel, at Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s Intensive Care Unit, along with other members of the community, are working to show the Clarks Summit family how much they care by organizing a fundraiser on their behalf.

One of those people is Colin Davis, 11, son of Steve Davis, of Dallas, who works with Skerel. Colin got a head start on the fund raising by making bracelets to sell, along with lemonade, at a table on his front lawn during the recent Back Mountain Memorial Library Auction.

Colin was sad when he heard Ella’s story, and it made him happy to be able to do something for her.

“I just want to help her,” he said, “and make her feel better.”

He also plans to sell the bracelets at a fundraiser his father and other co-workers are planning for Sept. 6 at the Ashley Fire Hall. Although the event is still in its early planning stages, activities tentatively planned include a motorcycle run, bounce houses, face painting, live music, a basket raffle, food, drinks, bake sale and bracelets and T-shirts for sale.

Another of Skerel’s co-workers, Vikki Morgan, of Pittston, launched a web page to collect donations for the family, via the website Go Fund Me, at gofundme.com/Open-Your-Heart-for-Ella. In the first 13 days, 40 people raised over a third of the website’s $6,000 goal, bringing in $2,435.

“We never in our wildest dreams expected anything from that,” she said. “First of all, I wasn’t even sure we hooked it up right.”

But, over 100 Facebook “shares” helped get the project off the ground almost immediately.

“It’s incredible,” Morgan said. “It’s really incredible that a lot of these complete strangers, some family, some co-workers, you know, that they actually donated already. It just blows my mind. It’s just phenomenal.”

All money raised is to go toward the household, medical, transportation and lodging expenses the family expects to incur during the time both parents will be off work for the upcoming surgery in Philadelphia.

Skerel was surprised when his co-workers first approached him regarding the fundraiser.

“It was a big relief,” he said, “because we (he and his wife Jennifer) plan on being out of work for a couple weeks, at least, and we didn’t know how to make it work financially. It was very thoughtful of of them. In just the planning, there’s a lot of work going in to it. They’re giving a lot of their time and thoughts.”

“How do you not help someone when you know that they’re going to have such a financial burden?” asked another of Skerels’s co-workers, Nadine Demarco, of Pittston, “and are so worried about how they’re going to manage the other kids, their finances. I mean, how do you not help someone when you know they’re going through a hard time?”

“And,” she added, “she’s a beautiful little girl with a great personality.”

Skerel agrees.

“She’s always smiling,” he said, as he gave the giggling Ella a little push on the swing set at a local playground.

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