by Megan Waldrep
First published in the Coastal View News, June 2019
“Mom, hold the phone please,” Eliana Georges said. Ellie, her mom Samantha, and I were in the middle of a FaceTime interview. But our virtual meet-up turned into a dance party after asking Ellie her favorite song. Currently, it’s “Old Town Road”, so Ellie got up from an outdoor chair on Linden Avenue, and giggled through a few dance moves before returning to her seat.
Ellie’s joie de vivre could come from the fact that she’s endured more than most people will in a lifetime. At four and a half months old, Ellie had a stroke and was diagnosed with a tumor found in her brain. It was then she became a patient of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and – after a surgery that took out one-third of a golfball-sized tumor and twenty-two months of chemo – her health improved for five years before falling into a three-week coma on Thanksgiving day in 2016. When Ellie awoke, then seven years old, she began relearning how to sit upright, talk, walk, and feed herself again. “We were in such a desperate and what felt like a hopeless situation,” Ellie’s mom Samantha said. “The best thing the doctor’s said was, ‘Just let her know you’re there and give her your love.’ And that exactly what we did.” By Ellie’s side sat her family, friends, and her dog, Coco. “I really believe,” Samantha said, “that love is the most powerful thing.”
Speaking with Ellie, you’d never know the health challenges she’s endured. At the time of this interview, ten-year-old Ellie was excited for school to be out for the summer (she’ll be a fifth-grader at Canalino Elementary School in the fall) and had just finished a scoop of her favorite Rori’s ice cream, Nutella. “Ellie’s amazing,” her mother Samantha says. “Every time she meets someone, she finds something to compliment them on and gives them little words of wisdom.” This was evident when Ellie was asked, how do you find courage when you’re feeling afraid? She paused for a moment then said, “Take some deep breaths, pray to God, and just know that your mommy and daddy are with you and they will always love you even though you are going through a tough time.”
Ellie and her family recently returned from a trip to Paris, France, gifted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. When asked her favorite part, she said it was having lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower and the funniest part had to do with her dad. “My dad is really scared of heights,” Ellie said, giggling. “There were glass parts on the (observation deck) that you can see to the bottom and he was scared to get close to the edge.” While Ellie’s dad panicked for her safety, Ellie cracked up laughing. “She’s brave,” Samantha said. “She really thought it was fun to see all the people walking underneath!”
Although there are still a few health concerns, Samantha says she’s grateful for everything they’ve been through, excited for the future, and enjoying life by taking it day by day. “I was just telling Ellie that when you reach to the top of the mountain, it’s important to turn around and extend your hand to those that are coming behind you,” Samantha said. “The best thing, for me personally, is to turn that pain into purpose. And helping others is the greatest way to do that.” Samantha even started a walk to raise money for pediatric cancer research in 2012. It ran for three years before the organization restructured. “We’ve always been involved with different non-profits that help us, so we give back,” Samantha says. “Especially after being on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and being gifted so much that we weren’t expecting. We find different ways every day to pay it forward.” (You may have caught Ellie and Samantha on Ellen last fall. As Ellie described to Ellen her experience of dancing with singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams on stage at a Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles benefit, Pharrell was backstage, waiting to surprise Ellie again.)
When asked if Ellie had a message for her neighbors of Carpinteria, she smiled. “Just remember to take deep breaths, pray to God, stay safe, and always be kind.”