Hearts and thoughts with borough girl

Western Elementary School third-grader Katie Umland, center, places money in a jar Sept. 18 at the school in Naugatuck while third-grader Eliviah Schroeder, left, and fourth-grader Lauren Umland look on. The school is raising money to help second-grader Olivia Thompson, 6, who is in need of a heart transplant. –LUKE MARSHALL

Western Elementary School third-grader Katie Umland, center, places money in a jar Sept. 18 at the school in Naugatuck while third-grader Eliviah Schroeder, left, and fourth-grader Lauren Umland look on. The school is raising money to help second-grader Olivia Thompson, 6, who is in need of a heart transplant. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Western Elementary School second-grader Gracie Hossein walked up to a table in the hallway of the school last Friday morning and dumped a bag of loose change into a jar labeled with her principal’s name.

Hossein was doing two things with the change: helping raise money for second-grader Olivia Thompson and casting a vote for Principal Brenda Goodrich to be doused with a bucket of water.

Students and staff at Western School are working together to raise money for Olivia, 6, who is in need of a heart transplant.

Thompson has cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart muscle is abnormal and isn’t strong to pump blood adequately, Alison Cohen, a neighbor of the Thompsons, said. Olivia had a couple of surgeries in August and was on life support for two weeks, according to Cohen. Olivia is currently in stable condition with a ventricular assist device, she said.

Cohen described Olivia as a “sweet, fun-loving, 6-year-old girl who loves to laugh, play, and dance.” The young Naugatuck girl needs a heart transplant in order to make a recovery, Cohen said.

Cohen has set up a Go Fund Me page — Our Hearts Go Out to Olivia — to help Olivia and her family. The page raised $4,550 as of Wednesday afternoon.

“The outpouring support and generosity of those who have contributed thus far has been overwhelmingly heartwarming and appreciated,” Cohen said.

Olivia hasn’t been able to return to school since the surgeries in August.

Olivia Thompson. –CONTRIBUTED

Olivia Thompson. –CONTRIBUTED

“She loves school and the idea of her not starting school with her friends is tough for her,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said the staff at Western discussed what they could do to help on the first day of school. One of the ways students are helping is by bringing in donations for the Thompson family. The donations, which are being collected through the end of this week, are put into to jars with the names of a faculty members on them. The staff member whose name is on the jar with the most money on it will be doused with a bucket of water during a presentation at the end of the school day Friday.

The school also ordered pink — Olivia’s favorite color — bracelets with “Western’s Hearts Are With Olivia” printed on them. The fourth-grade students will be selling them for $1 each, and the money will go to the Thompson family.

Teachers are also donating money raised through “dress down” days to the family, Goodrich said.

Olivia’s smile is missed at Western School.

“She is one of my best friends and we have gone to dance class together since we were 3 years old. I was scared to go to kindergarten, but when I saw Olivia in my class I felt better immediately and we hugged tight,” second-grader Emma Jagello wrote on a flyer to help spread the word about her friend in need. “Olivia is silly and would run around like crazy during recess smiling all the time. I’ve never seen Olivia sad, but now I am sad because my friend is sick and needs a heart quick. We are crossing our fingers to hope that Olivia gets a new heart.”

Cohen said Olivia still has a long road to recovery in front of her.

“She has experienced so much and has come so far in a short period of time, yet she still has a long way to go. Once the transplant surgery occurs, there is no way to know when that will occur, it will be a matter of making sure her body does not reject the new heart,” Cohen said.

Cohen said she and the rest of the neighbors are looking forward to the day Olivia is able to come home from the hospital.

“We hope soon the entire family will be back home, where they belong. The neighbors miss seeing her run around the yard carefree with her family and hearing all the shrills and laughs,” Cohen said.