A Riverview family, still reeling from the death of one child, is now facing a critical diagnosis for a second child.
Sixteen-month-old Elisse Valentina Jensen, daughter of Omarlynn and Joe Jensen, has been diagnosed with a heart defect requiring open-heart surgery.
Her brother, Eli Adam Jensen, died eight months ago at age 3, of a rare lung disease. The little boy needed a double lung transplant. Eli died four months after being admitted the hospital for the first time.
The couple is determined that their daughter won't suffer a similar fate for lack of funds. So now the family is in a race against time to raise $100,000 to pay for the little girl's surgery and related costs in November.
Fortunately, the family isn't carrying the burden alone. A Facebook page dedicated to the little girl has raised nearly $10,000. In addition, friends are planning a number of fundraisers.
Riverview resident Mike Self, owner of S & S Tacos & Stuff at 10664 U.S. 301 S., Riverview, will host a fundraising spaghetti and meatballs dinner Thursday, Aug. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m. The event will include a raffle for items donated by area businesses including Tampa Bay Buccaneer and Tampa Bay Rays tickets, children's entertainment and a disc jockey. The $10 dinner will include salad and garlic-bread knots.
"Our goal is to raise at least $1,000," said Self. "This family really needs the community's support."
A happy toddler who enjoys dogs, riding trains and carousels, watching "Dora the Explorer" and dancing, Elisse seemed to be perfectly healthy. However, after her older brother died, her parents decided to have her 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 and an enlarged heart. Further tests confirmed 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.
"This family can't take another loss," said Self, a longtime friend of the family. "Their son passing was very hard on them. I'm hoping everyone will come out to support them."
In addition to the spaghetti dinner, a yard sale and bake sale is planned for Saturday, Aug. 25 in Tarpon Springs. Those wishing to donate items for the yard sale can bring them to Thursday's dinner.
To make a donation to Elisse's fund, visit the Open Your Hearts for Elisse website.
Joe Jensen noted that all funds raised will go to travel expenses and medical expenses for their daughter.