Charity aids mother’s mission to remember sonWritten by Michelle Zepeda | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2008, Frankie and Kele Pallitta took their 7-month-old son, Elias, to the emergency room when they thought he was sick with the flu.
“He had flu symptoms,” Kele said. “We had the flu the week before, and when he couldn’t keep anything down we were told to go to the ER to give him fluids.”
But after a few routine tests the Pallittas were told their sick little boy didn’t have the flu; it was cancer. Within hours, Elias was rushed into surgery to try and relieve the pressure in his brain caused by the tumor.
“The surgeon came out saying everything went great and while he was talking with us he got a page., Kele said.
Elias had stopped breathing on his way back to his hospital room.
Kele said doctors worked on Elias for a half-hour as she and her husband helplessly stood outside the room. She said time passed so slowly and eventually she could no longer stand to know the doctors were still trying to bring her baby back to life.
“Please, just let them stop,” she recalls thinking. “I consider myself fortunate. We feel like we got off easy because we didn’t watch him go through treatments. Some families watch their kids go through treatments in the hospital for years and deal with this terrible feeling for days, weeks and years.”
Shortly after Elias died, Kele became pregnant and the couple now has three children. Life got busy, but a year ago Kele said she felt a need to remember her son and had an idea.
“We wanted to be able to help other families deal with their child getting cancer in a different way. A lot of charities fund a cure, but that’s not helping the families now,” she said.
She started collecting items that families staying in a hospital with a sick child could use, simple things like snacks, journals, games, gift cards, hand sanitizers and even Kleenex.
“I wanted them to know someone was thinking about them and what they were going through,” Kele said.
The plan was to make this a family activity and periodically deliver these care bags to hospitals. But just a year after starting, that plan has blossomed into a charity, named after their late son: Elias Adin Comforting Hearts. The nonprofit organization now serves four hospitals in Ohio — Mercy Children’s Hospital, Toledo Children’s Hospital, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and the Cleveland Clinic. Comforting Hearts is responsible for delivering more than 150 care bags to these hospitals as well as to families out of state who have caught the Pallittas’ attention, like the Wilhides in North Carolina.
“This huge package showed up at the hospital for us, I mean huge. It was filled with gifts for our older daughter, for our baby Piper, and things like journals and pens for us,” Haleigh Wilhide said. Wilhide’s daughter Piper was diagnosed with Stage 3 neuroblastoma when she was 4 months old and the family has been in the hospital since.
Wilhide said it has been a difficult road for the family but acts of kindness like the package sent by the Pallittas and their charity created a bright spot in their world.
“More than anything, it’s all the love you are flooded with. It makes you feel better, comforted; when everything is crumbling around you it just makes you smile,” Wilhide said.
For Wilhide, it was also comforting to have the support of another mom who had a baby with cancer.
“All us moms are connected and have a bond no one else will understand,” she said. “I don’t know her, I will never meet her, but we have a special bond.”
This new charity is keeping Kele, who works full time, busy. But she is committed to making her charity stand out.
“We try to do different things and different events to focus on different groups of people so it’s not always the same people. We want it to be fun and new,” Kele said.
During the past year, Comforting Hearts hosted fundraisers like a celebrity fashion show, a scavenger hunt through Perrysburg, a 5k obstacle course race and a bachelor and bachelorette auction.
The second annual Toledo’s Most Eligible Bachelor and Bachelorette Auction will take place at 8 p.m. March 2 at The Irish Eyes Heavenly Pub, 3324 Secor Road, Toledo. There will be a cover charge and all in attendance get a chance to bid on a date with the bachelor or bachelorette of their choice.
Comforting Hearts is always looking for donations for its care bags. There is a list of items on its website, www.comfort-hearts.com. Items can be dropped off at their office, 422 Louisiana Ave., Perrysburg.