A Heart for Giving
Local Girl Spreads Joy Through Selflessness and Creativity
Writer / Jamie Hergott
At the tender age of 11, Ellie Hart has already been through enough medical procedures and doctor’s appointments to rival many adults. However, no one would ever guess it when they witness her sweet smile and joyful countenance.
“I’m in sixth grade,” Ellie says. “I like training my cat, playing video games with my brother Corban, and I love doing clay.”
Creating clay items, specifically handheld hearts, is a passion and hobby that was born out of her life’s greatest adversity so far. She creates multicolored hearts out of polymer clay and passes them out to anyone she can find, to spread love and kindness.
At 6 years old, Ellie was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). She woke up one morning and came into her parents’ room, unable to walk with a swollen knee.
“She hadn’t injured it, and it was warm to the touch,” says Ellie’s mom, Mindy Hart. “We kept an eye on it and eventually she could bear weight on it. This went on for about two weeks.”
Mindy and her husband finally took Ellie to her pediatrician. After X-rays, doctors still couldn’t pinpoint the problem so they assumed Ellie had injured it. Mindy knew something wasn’t right. After sitting for long periods of time in school assemblies, Ellie wasn’t able to walk. Finally, an orthopedic doctor suggested they see a rheumatologist for blood work.
At this point, Ellie’s eyes were becoming affected with inflammation. This was the key to finding out Ellie had JRA. As an autoimmune disorder, JRA causes Ellie’s body to attack itself, including her joints and eyes. She began weekly shots right away. Her mom had to administer them, and not only were they painful, but as a low dose of chemotherapy they also made Ellie sick.
Finding out the answer to Ellie’s health issues was both relieving and terrifying to Mindy.
“On one hand, it was a relief to know there was a reason for her struggles,” Mindy says. “It was also definitely overwhelming. Learning to give her those shots, especially when they hurt her and made her sick, was so hard. I felt like I was poisoning my child. We got through it with the amazing support of friends, family, and church family.”
Ellie doesn’t remember too much from those early days of her diagnosis, but she does remember the shots.
“I remember being scared,” Ellie says. “It was painful, but soon my body knew that I’d also get sick after my shot so it got really hard.”
Ellie has always had the support of her older brother Corban. She loves playing video games with him, and he’s always been sympathetic to her health struggles.
“Corban has been so understanding,” Mindy says. “Usually in a family, when one kiddo is sick, the other one can struggle. He never did.”
After two years, Ellie’s body began rejecting the chemo, but by that point she was in non-medicated remission. She still enjoys remission now, and is staying busy with her clay project.
Her passion for clay came from a general interest in crafting. She could never do a lot of sports because of her health, so Hobby Lobby became a place to find things to do. During the COVID pandemic, Ellie wanted to do something to help others. She knew how it felt to miss out for health reasons, and her empathy compelled her to act.
She discovered that she could flatten polymer clay, use tiny heart-shaped cookie cutters to make little hearts, bake them, and create beautiful handheld creations to pass out. She decided to make a batch of hearts and pass them out at a local nursing home. She passed out 80 hearts that day and knew she was onto something.
“It just felt good to make people happy,” Ellie says. “Especially during COVID, when people couldn’t have visitors, I just felt so bad. Some people cry when I give them the hearts. Most are just really appreciative.”
Since then Ellie has created more than 5,000 hearts, with plans to create even more. Sometimes she creates custom orders with the colors people ask for. Other times, she just passes out what she has.
Mindy remembers one specific time when their family was in Nashville, and Ellie spotted a homeless man in a motorized wheelchair. Ellie tugged on her mom’s arm, asking, “Mom, do you have any hearts? Quick!” Ellie grabbed one, jumped out of the car, and gave the man one of her clay hearts.
“He was so touched by this little girl getting out of a car and giving him a heart,” Mindy says. “He put it in his pocket and said he’d hold onto it forever. She has chased down people in stores before and once people realize she’s just doing it to brighten their day, their countenance changes.”
The Hart family is part of several Facebook groups connecting families struggling with JRA. The groups offer community and support, and through those groups, Ellie has been able to make and send hearts to multiple locations across the globe including Europe, South Africa and Australia.
Ellie has also made items for Riley Hospital for Children, and hopes to make connections to pass out hearts for Veterans Day at the VA medical center in Indianapolis. She’s created batches for birthdays, holidays and special events. People have even asked her to create and sell batches so that they could pass the hearts out themselves. Armed with business cards, her plan for the near future is to create batches of 20 hearts for $5 to help others spread the same cheer and kindness that she does.
“We just love the idea of helping others spread kindness too,” Mindy says.
Corban is inspired by his little sister’s resilience and mission to spread love.
“She just spends hours in her room making them,” Corban says. “Once after only about two days she made 1,000 hearts. After seeing people’s reactions to her, it’s just nice to know she’s doing something that’s making her and everyone else happier. She’s doing something good and something she enjoys. It’s amazing. She’s going to be a sensation.”
Ellie’s mom sees a greater purpose at work in her daughter’s diagnosis and hearts. As Ellie has latched onto her clay heart project, Mindy sees the healing that has come to Ellie by focusing on others in her time of struggling with JRA.
“It helped her in her pain,” Mindy says. “It helped her focus on other people instead of focusing on what was going on with her. She has always been really sensitive to other people and their needs, so it’s amazing to see that sensitivity and compassion for others nurtured and heightened.”
To stay up to date on Ellie’s clay heart project, visit facebook.com/ElliesClayCreations.