Like most toddlers, Ella Kate Kearney loves Elmo, animals, The Berenstein Bears and Caillou.
She just became a big sister to baby brother Luke only weeks ago. And next month, she'll be celebrating her third birthday at White Post Farm.
As she sat on her mother's lap coloring in the backyard of in Malverne Sunday, wearing a polka dot dress and a flower on her head, the shy girl with the sparkling blue eyes flashed a smile.
It's moments like this that Brian Kearney, of Massapequa, and his wife, Keri, have come to cherish. About a year ago, they received the devastating news that their 2-year-old daughter had Ewing's Sarcoma, a malignant tumor on her tiny spine. She had to be rushed into emergency surgery, where much of the mass was removed but then doctors told them she would require eight long months of chemotherapy, as well as radiation treatments.
"The kind of radiation she needed was only offered in Boston or Chicago," Brian Kearney said.
And so the Kearney's spent three months living in Boston, where Ella received radiation treatments at Mass General. Brian, a carpenter, took three months off from work; Keri, a guidance counselor, took a leave of absence, and they rented an apartment there, while also continuing to pay the bills to maintain their home in Massapequa, along with Ella's medical expenses.
When fellow members of Local 2287, the New York City Carpenters Union, heard of Brian's situation, they immediately wanted to help.
"There's been changes in our medical plan that increase the contributions," said Kevin Fleming, a union member who worked with Brian for 15 years and with his father, a 40-year veteran. "Brian always treated the men well."
"We started to collect donations at union meetings," James Smith added.
Then, Fleming reached out to another union guy, Warren Hutchinson, who had organized when his brother-in-law, Malvernite and Lynbrook volunteer firefighter Len Llewellyn, suffered a life-changing injury that left him partially paralyzed. Hutchinson, who calls Connolly Station owner Gerry Hughes a close friend, was able to get the local pub to host the First Annual Shamrocks of Hope Fundraiser and donate 50 percent of its bar sales that day to pay for Llewellyn's home to be retrofitted, making it handi-capped accessible.
"It was very successful," said Hutchinson, who did not flinch when his union buddies asked him to organize a Shamrocks of Hope for Ella Kate. Neither did Gerry Hughes, who once again agreed to host and donate 50 percent of his profits from the bar and front room, including take-out orders, from 1 p.m. to closing on June 10.
Several local businesses also stepped up and donated prizes to be raffled off, and Hutchinson's family and friends signed on to volunteer.
"It's through support like this that's keeping us going," Brian Kearney said.
"When we first found out about Ella it was extremely hard-hitting," Fleming added. "But to see that she's doing much better and is expected to fully recovery is awesome."
Ella still has a long road ahead of her though. She finished her last round of chemo on April 5 and her first MRI results, from May 1, were clear, but she'll have to go monthly for bloodwork and then every quarter for MRIs for the next five years, Brian explained.
"Nothing is 100-percent curable," he said. "My wife and I always worry that the chemo was helping it go away. There's no chemo now, so we just hope and pray that it doesn't come back. It's out of our hands."
But amidst the worrying, Brian says, "Right now she's doing great. [We] just enjoy the moments."
Get Well cards and/or donations can be sent to:
Ella Kate Kearney
102 Cleveland Ave., Massapequa, N.Y. 11758