Ella Lynne Luening-Goidicke is a natural performer. She should be — the stage is in her blood. Her mother is Island singer and actress Sabrina Luening. Her uncle is local musician Erich Luening. They have lent their talent to many bands — 2nd Power, Drawn Butter, 36 Grit to name a few — and a dizzying number of theatre performances. To top it off, Ella is named for the sultry crooner Ella Fitzgerald. “She has rhythm,” Mr. Luening said recently about his niece who turns three in November. “She’s already a better dancer than I am.”
Tonight Ella will get the chance to strut her stuff at a benefit in her honor. On August 31, Ella, who was born with a hole in the bottom of her heart and suffers from a rare condition known as pulmonary atresia, underwent her third open heart surgery.
Ella was born on the Vineyard and seemed healthy and happy. A few days after her birth, Ella’s parents were getting ready to leave the hospital when they noticed something wrong. Their baby, who had been so healthy, was turning blue. The attending nurse put Ella on oxygen until she and Ms. Luening could be airlifted to Children’s Hospital in Boston.
Once in Boston, doctors discovered the hole in her heart and then diagnosed Ella with pulmonary atresia, commonly known as blue baby syndrome. The condition occurs when the pulmonary valve does not develop properly during pregnancy, causing oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood to mix after birth. The condition affects one in every 10,000 newborns. Ella had her first open heart surgery five days after her birth. She had her second at six months. Ms. Luening is crossing her fingers that her third will be her last and that soon her daughter will enjoy the carefree life of a toddler. “She loves to sing and go to the playground and ride the Flying Horses,” Mr. Luening said. At two and a half, she may be the youngest rider to catch the brass ring.
The surgery last month was long — eight and a half hours — but successful. “She’s a very strong and brave little one,” Mr. Luening said. “When the doctors pulled out her breathing tube after the surgery, she sat up and smiled. They all started clapping for her.” Although the surgery went well, Ella has not been recovering as quickly as the doctors had hoped. Her oxygen levels are still low and a follow-up procedure may have to be scheduled sooner than originally expected.
After her first surgery, Mr. Luening organized a benefit for his niece at the former Circuit avenue nightclub, the Atlantic Connection. The list of performers included the Luenings’ cousin and prominent musician, Evan Dando, Island band The Unbusted and Mr. Luening’s own band, the
Erich Luening Band. The event raised more than $4,000 for the family. In organizing the event, Mr. Luening was simply following in his sister’s footsteps. After he was badly hurt in a car accident in 2002, Ms. Luening organized a musical benefit for him. Good music and good friends begin the march toward recovery in this family. “I just love this Island,” said Ms. Luening. “It’s amazing when someone’s in a time of need how people come together here.”
In August, Mr. Luening joined with good friend and fellow Island musician Don Groover to organize the benefit. Tisbury Printer donated posters to advertise and the nightclub Outerland donated the stage. Although Ella and Ms. Luening have health insurance, it does not cover all the medical costs and the money is quickly adding up from their monthly trips to Boston. Taking care of her daughter has become a full-time job and Ms. Luening is putting work on hold, which makes the financial matter all the more pressing. “We want to support Sabrina and Ella emotionally, but also financially,” Mr. Luening said.
Together, Mr. Luening and Mr. Groover have created an impressive lineup. Ballyhoo, guitarist Paul Size and an offshoot of the band Kahoots, Maniacs of the Heart, are on the roster. So is Mr. Luening, backed by his band, and Ms. Luening, who will be accompanied by Mr. Groover. Surprise guests are also suspected. Mr. Luening said Mr. Dando, back on Island after a tour with his recently reunited band the Lemonheads, may make a repeat performance, and he hinted that Kate Taylor may stop by as well. “We have a small but aggressive and vibrant community of talented musicians,” Mr. Luening said. “People just come together to support each other.”
Outerland’s doors open at 7:30 p.m. for the all-ages show. Tickets cost $20 at the door. At 10:30, a deejay will give the musicians a rest, but not the dancers. The party is expected to go past midnight. Ella will be there and both her mom and her uncle expect her to get up on stage and boogie. “Everywhere she’s been going, she’s been lifting up her shirt to show off her scars,” Mr. Luening said. “She points to her scars and says, ‘See, it’s all better,’” Ms. Luening laughed.
Donations for Ella can be addressed to the Baby Ella Fund at the Dukes County Savings Bank.