I was in the middle of a FaceTime interview with Eliana “Ellie” Georges and her mom Samantha, when I asked the 10-year-old Canalino student about her current favorite song. “Old Town Road,” Ellie replied, then asked, “Mom, hold the phone please,” and got up from an outdoor chair on Linden Avenue and giggled through a few dance moves before returning to her seat.
Ellie’s joie de vivre might come from the fact that she’s endured more than most people will in a lifetime. At four and a half months old, Ellie had a stroke and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She became a patient at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and after a surgery that took out a tumor about the size of one-third of a golf ball, and 22 months of chemotherapy, her health finally improved. Ellie remained healthy for five years until on Thanksgiving Day 2016, she fell into a coma that lasted for three weeks. When she woke up, the then seven-year-old had to relearn how to sit upright, talk, walk and feed herself. “We were in such a desperate and what felt like a hopeless situation,” Ellie’s mom Samantha said. “The best thing the doctors said was, ‘Just let her know you’re there and give her your love.’ And that’s exactly what we did.” Throughout the ordeal, Ellie’s family, friends and her dog, Coco, sat by her side. “I really believe that love is the most powerful thing,” added Samantha.
Speaking with Ellie, you’d never know the health challenges she’s faced. At the time of this interview, 10-year-old Ellie was excited for school to let out for the summer (she’ll be a fifth grader at Canalino Elementary School in the fall) and had just finished a scoop of her favorite Rori’s ice cream, Nutella. “Ellie’s amazing,” her mother Samantha said, “Every time she meets someone, she finds something to compliment them on and gives them little words of wisdom.” When Ellie was asked how she found courage when she’s feeling afraid? She paused for a moment and said, “Take some deep breaths, pray to God, and just know that your mommy and daddy are with you and they will always love you even though you are going through a tough time.”
Last month, Ellie and her family went to Paris on a trip gifted to them by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Her favorite part was having lunch at the top of the Eiffel Tower. “My dad is really scared of heights,” Ellie said, giggling, “There were glass parts on the (observation deck) that you can see to the bottom and he was scared to get close to the edge.” While Ellie’s dad panicked, Ellie was confidant. “She’s brave,” Samantha said. “She really thought it was fun to see all the people walking underneath!”
Although there are still health concerns, Samantha says she’s grateful for everything they’ve been through, excited for the future and enjoying life. “I was just telling Ellie that when you reach the top of the mountain, it’s important to turn around and extend your hand to those that are coming behind you,” Samantha said. “The best thing, for me personally, is to turn that pain into purpose. Helping others is the greatest way to do that.” Samantha started a walk to raise money for pediatric cancer research in 2012. It ran for three years before the organization restructured. “We’ve always been involved with different non-profits that help us, so we give back,” Samantha said. “Especially after being on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and being gifted so much that we weren’t expecting. We find different ways every day to pay it forward.” (You may have caught Ellie and Samantha on Ellen last fall. As Ellie described to Ellen her experience of dancing with singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams on stage at a Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles benefit, Pharrell was backstage, waiting to surprise Ellie again.)
When asked if she had a message for her neighbors in Carpinteria, Ellie smiled. “Just remember to take deep breaths, pray to God, stay safe and always be kind.”