FORT MYERS, Fla. (Jan. 7, 2020) – SWFL Children’s Charities’ 2020 Child Artist, Eleanor “Ellie” O’Neal was born at just 23 weeks gestation, weighing only 1 pound, 3 ounces. A “micro-preemie,” Ellie was born while still inside her amniotic sac, which likely protected her during her unexpected, early arrival.
“You picture yourself holding your newborn in the hospital, but it would be 37 days until I could hold Ellie,” said her mother, Christine O’Neal. “Throughout her stay, I was at her side, and the Golisano Children’s Hospital NICU became our new normal.”
Ellie experienced complications not uncommon for a micro-preemie. She suffered a brain bleed and a diagnosis of aggressive Retinopathy of Prematurity, or ROP for short. The lower the gestational age and birthweight, the greater the risk of severe, sight-threatening disease or blindness from ROP.
This grim outlook didn’t stop Dr. Jessica Kovarik, pediatric ophthalmologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital, from doing her best to save Ellie’s sight. Without treatment, there’s a 50% chance of blindness.
“In the 80s, babies with ROP would go blind,” said Dr. Kovarik. “Now, if we catch the disease early and immediately start treatment, we can save a child’s sight.”
Ellie’s case was serious, requiring injections in both eyes to stop the “bad” blood cells from growing and causing the retina to detach. Initially, she responded well, but then it recurred, requiring a second injection and eventually, surgery.
Some form of vision impairment was expected. Once again, Ellie defied the odds and today, she enjoys full vision.
“Despite everything, her vision is normal,” said Dr. Kovarik. “And that’s a miracle, considering how early she was born.”
“The fight in this little girl is so strong – she’s a warrior,” her dad said, through tears. “Look out world, between her stubbornness and tenacity, I’m confident she will do something amazing.”
As SWFL Children’s Charities’ 2020 Child Artist, Ellie created a one-of-a-kind piece of art, a painting that reflects the beautiful colors that she now sees thanks to the care she received at Golisano Children’s Hospital. NBC-2’s morning news anchor Rachel Pierce generously donated her time and expertise as the 2020 Art Mentor, working with Ellie to create “Do You See What I See?” The vibrant painting will be featured during the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, where auction-goers can raise their paddles in support of Ellie and her artwork. Bids for the artwork will start at $5,000, and the 2018 child art raised $150,000. Traditionally, the works are then donated back to the hospital, where they are displayed for patients, families, visitors and staff to enjoy.
The child artist program has raised more than $1.2 million over 11 years to benefit pediatric care at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, the only children’s hospital to serve the five-county region.
Celebrating its 12th year, the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest will take place Feb. 21-22, 2020. The two-day signature event, themed “Painting a Difference: Putting Kids First,” will feature Chef Vintner Dinners on Friday, Feb. 21, creatively hosted in private luxury venues across the region, followed The Grand Tasting and Live Auction on Saturday, Feb. 22 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort and Spa in Bonita Springs. Each day, guests will experience artful cuisine created by celebrated chefs and expertly paired with vintners from some of the finest and most exclusive wineries.
To learn more about the 2020 Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, please visit www.swflwinefest.org.
About SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc.
SWFL Children’s Charities, Inc.’s annual signature fundraiser, the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, has donated nearly $23 million over the past 11 years in support of children’s health initiatives. The 2020 event will support pediatric health care services at Golisano Children’s Hospital, as well as pediatric health care educational programs at Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College. For more information, visit www.swflwinefest.org.