Dec 10, 2013
05:54 PM
Health & Science

Oxford Girl Who Aspires to Be a Chef Can't Eat; Awaits Transplant as Family Needs Aid

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Chelsea, who is hooked up to a backpack 16 hours a day that delivers the IV feedings, doesn’t like to go out in public with it (she gets to ditch the backpack for the school day at Oxford Center School and loves being back at school full-time after interruptions caused by her illness.)

“We’re fortunate right now. She’s doing really well,” Linda Wheeler says. Chelsea helped cook for Thanksgiving this year (it would be easier if she could taste the dishes, she says), she sits with the family during dinners, and she’s able to have some ice pops and some hard candy like lollipops, which she loves—along with loving candy canes, unicorns and reading.

But that “doing really well” status can easily change.

Even after the transplant, there’s a lot for Chelsea, and the family, to endure. On the bright side, she may be able to have her dream of eating come true in as little as a few days to two weeks after the procedure, but there’s organ rejection to worry about, which is most common in the first three to six months.

After the surgery, Chelsea will have to remain in the hospital for a month or two, and then she will need to stay in the Pittsburgh area for another six to eight months for post-transplant care. Then there’s lifelong care, and anti-rejection medications, whose cost can exceed $2,500 a month.

“We’re going to have to fund-raise for the next year,” Fernandes says of the Oxford drive.

The giving tree was unveiled Dec. 6 during the town hall tree lighting ceremony and will remain up until Jan. 1, with $5 donations for (handmade) paper doves to be placed on the tree. Any other donations will be acknowledged with circle paper icons displayed in the windows of town hall.

Upcoming fundraising events include a holiday bazaar Dec. 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Oxford High School, a dinner and silent auction Feb. 22 at Villa Bianca in Seymour,  Chelsea W. Night at the Bridgeport Sound Tigers next March 1 and a golf tournament next May.

In the meantime, the “waiting game” will go on—with COTA in the Wheelers’ corner, along with Chelsea’s physician in Connecticut, Dr. Donna Zeiter at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and others.

COTA has helped more than 2,000 children and adults needing life-saving organ transplants, bone marrow, cord blood or stem cell transplant, raising more than $70 million. It was founded in 1986 after volunteers in Bloomington, Ind., raised funds to place a child on the liver transplant waiting list.

“Each day, about 77 people receive an organ transplant. Each day, 19 people die waiting for an organ transplant,” COTA says.

Asked about a bigger picture that she would like people to take away from Chelsea’s story, Linda Wheeler cites a greater awareness of the importance of transplants, and for more potential donors to understand “how you can save so many lives.”

In addition to that, she would encourage a broader awareness of the range of very serious conditions and illnesses children face, pointing out gently that cancer seems to all the attention. “There are other sick children in the hospital,” she says.

Chelsea isn’t one of them at the moment, but she faces a long, difficult process filled with time spent in the hospital before she can get back to obsessively watching cooking shows on TV as one part of the foundation for her future—Chelly’s restaurant. And she and her family need the help of caring residents of Connecticut and beyond to get to that new, savory status.

Volunteers are needed to assist with fundraising activities that will help with transplant-related expenses.  Individuals and groups interested in more information can contact Community Coordinator Ray Nappi at 203.305.8719 or

Donations may be mailed to the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, 2501 West COTA Drive, Bloomington, Indiana, 47403.  Checks or money orders should be made payable to COTA, with “In Honor of Chelsea W” written on the memo line of the check.  Secure credit card donations are also accepted online at

Oxford Girl Who Aspires to Be a Chef Can't Eat; Awaits Transplant as Family Needs Aid

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