'The Miracle': Ethan's Day a celebration, fundraiser for boy with rare congenital heart defect

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comJune 21, 2013 

She had made the trip from Georgia to Texas to say goodbye to her seriously ill infant grandson, Ethan, whom she believed would not live long enough for her to ever see again.

"No one actually spoke the words," Christy Burnell said. Nobody wanted to talk about it.

Then came what the Columbus woman calls "the miracle."

The Sunday event at Weracoba Park in Columbus originally planned as a fundraiser for Ethan's family will now be that and much more. Ethan's Day will be a celebration. In case of bad weather, the alternate location will be the Valley Rescue Mission.

Ethan Osterman was born in Dallas on Feb. 17, 2012, with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital heart defect. The left side of Ethan's heart was underdeveloped. He had just one functioning ventricle.

"It was half a heart," Burnell said.

Two surgeries, the first when he was eight days old, and other procedures did not do much to remedy the situation and Ethan's heart began to fail in January. He was put on an emergency transplant list.

In early April, Ethan got a serious virus, and his name was removed from the list. Though not fully recovered, on April 20, his name was reinstated.

"It was in the middle of the night, just eight hours after he was put back on the list, we got the call that there was a heart for Ethan," Burnell said.

The 10-hour operation at Children's Medical Center of Dallas on April 21 was a success, and Ethan has now been home for four weeks.

Still, there are a lot of expenses.

Ethan's Day, which will be from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is a Children's Organ Transplant Association event with funds raised going directly to help heart transplant patients, including Ethan and his family.

With the cost of a transplant often exceeding $500,000, many transplant families are unable to shoulder the financial burden of such a procedure. COTA is a national charity dedicated to organizing and guiding communities in raising funds to help with transplant-related costs.

There will be clowns, pony rides, games and face painting.

Entertainment will be provided by singers of Christian music, such as Rick Roper, Abby Chandler and The Mighty Anointed Disciples.

Hot dogs, hamburgers, chips and cookies will be among the food items offered for sale, as well as cotton candy and popcorn.

There will be drawings for prizes, such as grills, haircuts, car washes and restaurant meals. There will be an auction for vacation trips. More than 20 local companies have donated items to the cause.

The idea for Ethan's Day came from Burnell's co-workers at Damascus Way, a shelter for women and children operated by the Valley Rescue Mission. Burnell is a case worker there.

Christine DeBorde, activities director at Damascus Way, called Ethan's Day "a celebration that will praise the glory of God."

"Ethan's parents Jake and Lauren Osterman are from here. The entire family is from Columbus and Phenix City," DeBorde said. "They have been humble servants and have done a lot for the community."

"Our goal is $50,000," Damascus Way volunteer Tanya Rutledge said. "We have already been raising funds and have more than half of the goal. The Lord is doing great things."

Burnell, whose husband David is retired military and now works for Liberty Utilities, said she knows prayer made the difference for Ethan.

"We had so many people praying for him," Burnell said.

Her father, Ethan's great grandfather, is David Howle, longtime pastor at Edgewood Baptist Church in Columbus and currently pastor at Ladonia Baptist Church.

"My father has a jail ministry and prisoners were praying for Ethan," Burnell said.

She said the family does not know much about the heart donor and may never know much.

"That family suffered a great loss, and they are in our thoughts and prayers," Burnell said.

She said the experience with Ethan's illness and the transplant surgery has been like nothing she has ever been through before.

Burnell said, "The way it has turned out, we feel blessed."

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