In 2007, Cindy and Joel Gradowski were blessed with a baby boy, Ethan. A short two years into his birth, Ethan’s strength and the family’s resiliency were tested when their baby boy was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect, and because of serious complications went into cardiac arrest and suffered several strokes.
Now in 2016, Ethan is very much alive and joyous to participate in an event that his family, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Heart Institute Auxiliary of Children’s Hospital started in his honor.
On Sunday, the second annual Skating For Little Hearts fundraiser was held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex with all benefits going towards the Children’s Hospital. Defenseman Kris Letang agreed to be the Honorary Event Chair with hopes to spread awareness after he suffered a similar congenital heart complication in 2014.
“It was special to skate with the kids,” said Letang, who also co-chair of the Heart Walk in 2014. “To give back like this is an easy task.” He also noted the immense courage of the children whom this money is being raised for, saying they were one of the reasons he was able to overcome his complications.
“I’m here to skate, really,” Ethan, now 9 years old, happily said when asked about what this event means to him. “But it’s really for a special fundraiser for other children born with heart conditions. Because when I was born I had a heart contusion and the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh saved me. They saved my life.”
Kids and parents who purchased a skating ticket were open to glide around with Letang and his son for about an hour on the UPMC ice, while a ‘fastest shot’ competition and silent auction were also going on for those who did not step into the rink.
Last year the event was held at Schenley Park. There were only 10 skaters, a few donors and just under $8,000 was raised.
Now in Year 2, Ethan’s Godmother and chairperson for the event, Karen Pesage, said they’re expecting much bigger returns.
“We have 250 skaters registered and each skater is permitted to bring three non-skaters, so were anticipating about 400 people today, perhaps more,” Pesage said. “Hopefully more because we have some incredible auction items.”
And there were plenty of items to bid on like an autographed Sidney Crosby, Letang or Mario Lemieux jersey. Tickets to a Penguins, Pirates or Steelers game were also on the list.
Hundreds of other items were donated to the fundraiser including hot-air balloon rides, gift cards, movie passes, clothing, food, haircuts, plus tons of hockey related items and gear.
Pesage said they’re expecting to see well over $30,000 from this year’s event.
“The Penguins have been very generous partners,” Pesage said. “We look forward to many successful ‘Little Hearts’ fundraisers in the future.”