Jun 19, 2014
09:21 AMConnecticut Today
Oxford Girl Who Can’t Eat, Wants to Be Chef, on WNPR ‘Faith Middleton Show’
Inspired by the Connecticut Magazine stories on Chelsea Wheeler, the 11-year-old Oxford girl who wants to be a chef when she grows up but isn't able to eat because of her medical condition, Faith Middleton featured Chelsea’s story today (June 19) on “The Faith Middleton Show” on WNPR radio.
Chelsea has been diagnosed with pseudo obstruction, meaning that food would simply remain in her stomach as if something was obstructing it from being processed by the body. The condition caused irreversible intestinal failure, which means Chelsea needs a small bowel transplant.
She's on the National Organ Transplant waiting list, with approximately 30 other children in Chelsea's age group also on the list for a small bowel transplant through the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. In all nationwide, about 260 people are waiting for this particular transplant.
How does a girl like Chelsea get her new organ? “Someone must die," (a child with a compatible organ), Chelsea's mom, Linda, told Middleton in confirming the sad reality of the situation.
Chelsea has relied on IV feedings to live since October 2012, a situation that has its own complications, such as the impact on other organs in the body, and risks like infections.
The show featuring Chelsea and her story was taped Thursday morning at WNPR’s studio in New Haven, and Doug Clement, the Verticals Editor of Connecticut Magazine, also particpated. (Above, Middleton and Chelsea at the WNPR studio.)
“I couldn’t pass up the chance ot meet another food lover, one with a dream and a plan," Middleton said in opening the segement, which runs about 40 minutes and can be heard on Middleton's WNPR web page.
As an amuse-bouche for a conversation that was fun and serious in equal measures, Middleton first zeroed in on Chelsea's sneakers (left), saying they were “the most awesome sneakers I’ve ever seen.”
“These work with everything," Chelsea responded her trademark witty charm.
In engaging fashion, Chelsea then told Middleton about her plans to open a restaurant called Chelly’s, which would combine casual fare such as hot dogs with fine dining options inspired by international cuisines, notably Italian.
Chelsea refers to her future restaurant as a diner, but it quickly became clear that Chelly's would be a place dedicated to serving a wide range of culinary desires.
See our original December, 2013, story on Chelsea, which prompted a CNN story on Chelsea:
There would be seafood, hot dogs, hamburgers, “a little bit of everything," Chelsea said, adding when Middleton asked about international cuisines that, in addition to a foundation of Italian fare, there would also be French influences.
“I have a place in Woodbury picked out," Chelsea said. "It’s a big wood place and I am in love with it.” (The soaring barn-like commercial building near the intersection of routes 6 and 64 is admired by many, and while built years ago it remains vacant, with a sign out front saying the property has approval for a restaurant.)
“Let’s pretend Chelly’s is open and I walk in the door for the first time," Middleton said in asking for a description of what Chelly's would look and feel like.
There would be bright-colored walls, and arcade games for kids in the equation, an area with booths—and even waitresses with poodle skirts on roller skates. (It was later revealed that Chelsea's little sister, Julia, 7, is already being trained to deliver food on roller skates in preparation for working at Chelly's.)
“It’s going to be a fun place to hang out," Chelsea said.
The "diner" would also have a bar area with TVs showing “football games so dads can go and watch football, eat nachos … drink a beer.”
Chelly's would also have a more formal section where guests in a fine-dining mood would go, because, as Chelsea said, "One day you want a relaxed dinner, one day you want a fancy dinner."
Whatever your mood, the best part, perhaps, is that Chelsea already knows the value of keeping costs under control. “It’s going to be so high quality [but] you won’t need to be a millionaire" to come every day, she said, but you'll "feel like a millionaire" when you eat there.
When Middleton asked about dessert, Chelsea definitively said that everything would be "covered with chocolate."
A fan of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” "Chopped", “Cupcake Wars” and other TV food shows, Chelsea said, “I will be the chef but my dad will help out” with the cooking.
The conversation turned more serious and somber as Middleton asked about the specifics of Chelsea's condition, about how Chelsea has had health issues from birth, how she's had more than 30 surgeries already to address issues related to her primary affliction—and how the time came when the Wheeler family learned Chelsea's body simply could not process food because of the pseudo obstruction, and, as a result, that she could no longer eat.
“As more food was taken away, her interest in cooking” increased, Linda Wheeler said. “She’s in the kitchen every night with me, preparing dinner.”
Chelsea and her siblings go grocery shopping, and make menus that are displayed on signs, just as if they already run a restaurant.
“I am teaching her how to ride on roller skates," Chelsea said of Julia. "She has done it numerous times.”
Before the restaurant dream comes true, the Wheelers have to get the call that it's time for Chelsea's transplant. “She and I will have to charter a flight to Pittsburgh when we get the call," Linda Wheeler said. If all goes well, Chelsea will still remain hospitalized for an extended period, and then she and her mother will have to live for another six to eight months in the Pittsburgh area to be close to the hospital.
At this point, Chelsea has been waiting a year for a transplant. “You just never know when the call will come," Linda Wheeler said.
Meanwhile, the family perseveres—somehow in good spirits. Chelsea is one of five children, and while Linda keeps tabs on her, dad Chris Wheeler does his best to keep life normal for Chelsea's brothers, Julia, and their older sister. There's not much time left to "overthink things," Linda Wheeler said.
“And they keep my life fun. There’s never a dull moment," Chelsea chimed in about her family.
As it undergoes this journey, the Wheeler family is being helped in its journey by the nonprofit Children’s Transplant Organ Association, which has a web page devoted to Chelsea where you can find out more about her and connect with ways to help.
Listen to Chelsea's story on “The Faith Middletown Show” online at WNPR. Also see Middleton's Facebook page, and her new website for her popular show-within-a-show, "The Food Schoomze."
Chelsea has experienced health related issues since birth. Over the past 10 years she has had over 30 surgeries and has spent a lot of time in various hospitals. Chelsea has been diagnosed with pseudo obstruction, which has caused her to go into irreversible intestinal failure. Due to this condition, she is in need of a life-saving small bowel transplant.
Since October of 2012 Chelsea has been TPN dependent, which means she has been unable to eat anything for the past year and relies on IV feedings to live. This is not a long-term option, since TPN is very hard on the other organs in the body.
Chelsea is currently listed on the National Organ Transplant waiting list. The transplant operation will take place at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. After the surgery, Chelsea will need to stay in the hospital for 1-2 months, after which she will need to stay in the Pittsburgh area for an additional 6-8 months for post transplant care. Post transplant treatment will require life long medications and follow up care.
With the cost of a transplant often exceeding $500,000, many transplant families are unable to shoulder the financial burden of such a procedure. The Children’s Organ Transplant Association (COTA) is a national charity dedicated to organizing and guiding communities in raising funds for transplant-related expenses. In Oxford, volunteers are raising funds for COTA in honor of transplant patients like local girl, Chelsea Wheeler.
Chelsea’s family has asked for assistance from the Children’s Organ Transplant Association. The organization’s priority is to assure that no child or young adult is denied a transplant or excluded from a transplant waiting list due to lack of funds. One hundred percent of all funds raised are used for patients’ transplant-related expenses.
Visit Chelsea's Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/#!/COTAforChelseaWheeler
Oxford Girl Who Can’t Eat, Wants to Be Chef, on WNPR ‘Faith Middleton Show’