Hundreds Turn Out for Fundraiser to Support Riverview Family
A spaghetti dinner at S & S Tacos & Stuff raised funds for a 16-month-old girl in need of heart surgery.
Tearfully greeting both longtime friends as well as strangers, Riverview residents Omarlynn and Joe Jensen said they were overwhelmed with the turnout at a fundraiser for their daughter, Elisse, Aug. 18.
The spaghetti dinner benefit, organized by Mike Self, owner of S & S Tacos & Stuff at 10664 U.S. 301 S., Riverview, attracted hundreds of supporters, so many that cars lined U.S. 301 in front of the restaurant.
All those attending had one goal in mind: to raise funds to help the Jensen's pay for heart surgery for their 16-month-old daughter.
The little girl has been diagnosed with a heart defect requiring open-heart surgery. The surgery is scheduled to take place at Boston Children's Hospital Sept. 17.
Elisse's diagnosis came just months after her brother, Eli Adam Jensen, died at age 3, of a rare lung disease.
Now the Jensens are fighting to save their daughter. To that end, the community is helping the couple to raise funds needed to pay for the little girl's surgery and related costs.
So far, a Facebook page dedicated to the little girl has raised nearly $10,000.
The totals weren't in at press time, but Self was hoping the spaghetti dinner fundraiser would bring in another $1,000.
A long line of diners waited patiently for $10 spaghetti dinners as Self scurried from the restaurant's kitchen to the buffet table with heaping pans of spaghetti noodles.
He said he wasn't especially surprised by the response. The Riverview community always comes together to support those in need.
However, the Jensens said they never expected such an outpouring of support.
"There's a lot of friends and family here," said Joe Jensen. "But there's also a lot of people we've never met. It's just amazing, and Mike's an awesome friend. This wouldn't have been possible without him."
For Omarlynn Jensen, still grieving from the loss of her son, Elisse's diagnosis has been heartbreaking.
"I thought to myself, after everything we went through with Eli, we were going to have to go through it all again," she said. "I just couldn't believe this was happening."
Although seemingly healthy, the couple decided to have Elisse tested in January to make sure she hadn't inherited the same lung disease that killed her brother.
An X-ray revealed she had enlarged lymph nodes in her lungs. But her mother also noticed something else amiss in the X-ray.
"I've seen hundreds of Eli's X-rays and realized immediately when I saw Elisse's X-ray that her heart was huge," said Omarlynn Jensen. "I was persistent so the doctors did a CAT scan and echocardiogram."
The mother's instincts proved correct. The little girl had a 10 mm hole in her heart, too large to heal on its own. Since the position of the hole is near the top of her heart and the hole is considered large, doctors concluded she would need open-heart surgery.
She was sent to Boston Children's Hospital, one of the county's top pediatric cardiology hospitals, in July to be evaluated. Doctors there confirmed the need for surgery.
Other fundraisers for the family include a gold exchange at S & S Tacos, Saturday, Aug. 18, beginning at 10 a.m.
Supporters also can make a donation at the Open Your Hearts for Elisse website.
Joe Jensen emphasized that all funds raised will go to travel expenses and medical expenses for their daughter.