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Golisano Children’s Hospital raising money for new eye institute for children

Ellie O’Neal is what you would call a micro-preemie, meaning she was born at just 23 weeks.

It’s hard to get the sense of just how small she was, but one look at the size of the diapers she used when firstborn and it gives you an idea.

Today she is a rambunctious and healthy toddler and her family is sharing her story to give hope to other families with preemies— and hopefully to get people to donate to a good cause.

“She didn’t have a great chance of survival. So it was really scary, I didn’t get to see her before she was whisked off by the NICU team,” said Ellie’s mother, Christine O’Neal.

If you were to observe Christine with her daughter Ellie you really get a sense for how grateful she is to hold her— even let her climb all over her.

“It took her until she was two months old to even get to two pounds,” O’Neal said.

When Ellie was born at 23 weeks her body was still growing arteries, nevermind lungs, So she needed a ventilator.

While the oxygen was necessary, it also causes blindness in children that young. That is where the team at Golisano Children’s Hospital comes in.

“She was probably one of the tiniest babies Dr. Kovarik did an eye exam on,” O’Neal said.

Until now—Dr. Jessica Kovarik was the only pediatric eye surgeon in Southwest Florida, which means it took really long time to wait to get a consultant.

“Patients could expect to wait up to 277 days for an appointment,” said Golisano employee, Armando Liechu.

Liechu is the hospital’s Chief Administrative Officer, and he knew that the amount of time to wait was unacceptable.

With the help of a $3 million pledge from Southwest Florida Children’s Charities— the hospital hired two more pediatric eye surgeons and also built a new eye institute just for kids.

They hope the new additions well help get patients within a week’s time.

On the day we met Armando there were 60 babies in the Neonatal ICU, which means dozens of more families like Ellie were waiting and hoping for a bright future.

“She is just such a fighter and I’m just so proud,” O’Neal said.

The SWFL Children’s Charities is hosting an event this weekend to raise even more money for the eye institute— including an auction that will include a painted picture of Ellie and her big brother.

To bid on an auction lot or buy tickets, click here.

Our partners at Gulfshore Life Magazine are sponsors of the event—you can find more information about the event right here.

Reporter:Lindsey Sablan
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