The turtles are off! Unique benefit event set for this Sunday at Elks
By: CHELSEA SHANK Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
Though the recent Olympics may have left you thinking you’ve seen every kind of race imaginable this summer, a Turtle Derby in Ephrata is about to prove you wrong.
That’s right, turtles will be racing this Sunday, Sept. 2 at the Ephrata Elks Lodge as part of the "Pound it Park" fundraising effort for Parker Harley, an Ephrata High School senior.
Anyone can sponsor a turtle for $10. The turtles will be placed in the center of a 16-foot circular platform and race to the outside circle. Whichever turtle crosses the outside line first, wins. Cash prizes will be awarded to the winners.
"It is crazy. They are faster than you might think," said Jack Harley, Parker’s father.
Parker, 17, was diagnosed with Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) in March after he was taken to the emergency room for a totally unrelated accident. PSC is a rare disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the ducts that bring bile out of the liver and into the digestive tract.
"The doctor in the emergency room saw that his eyes were yellow and she did a couple of additional tests," Jack Harley said.
Since then, Jack and his wife Stephanie have been on an emotional roller coaster visiting doctors and having tests that eventually led to Parker entering the Pediatric Liver Transplant program at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
Parker developed pancreatitis following a procedure there, and during a three-week stay at Johns Hopkins, his gall bladder became inflamed and needed to be removed.
"Further complications during that surgery nearly cost him his life, but he fought through, and again he came home," said Jack.
"They caught a negative blood infection in the nick of time and things have been calm since then, he said.
Parker has been working at the Ephrata pool over the summer and trying to maintain a "normal" life as much as possible.
He takes pills daily and has blood tests every few months. And while Parker is technically on the list to have a transplant, Jack said his scores are so low that he would not yet qualify for an organ even if one were available.
"The scary part of being on the waiting list is that you don’t qualify until you are really, really symptomatic," said Jack Harley.
When Parker was in the intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins, the hospital held its 81st Annual Turtle Derby. The fundraising event originated when a doorman at Hopkins, who raised turtles, inspired residents at the hospital to host a turtle race as a way to pay homage to the famous Preakness horse race held at the Pimlico racetrack in Baltimore.
Hopkins has held a Turtle Derby every year since then as a fund-raiser for the children’s programs at the hospital.
"We watched the Derby on closed circuit TV from the ICU and thought it was hysterical," Jack Harley said. "We knew we were going to have to do this at home."
The Harleys have been overwhelmed by the support of the Ephrata community through prayers and financial donations to help cover medical expenses. One of the Harleys neighbors, Shyanne Simmons, raised money at her church, and Parker’s best friend, Josh Buohl, began "Pound it Park" with selling wristbands. Dozens of family members, friends and strangers they have never met have helped them and the Harleys are incredibly grateful for and overwhelmed by all of the support.
"I can talk about the disease, the treatments, the surgeries and the rest of it without missing a beat," Jack Harley said. "But when I talk about the generosity of this town, I can’t finish a sentence without getting choked up."
When Jon and Lindsey Sheehan, the Harleys neighbors, contacted them about holding a Beef and Beer event for Parker, Jack suggested they combine it with the Turtle Derby.
In addition to the turtle race, the event on Sunday, from 3 to 9 p.m., will feature live music, clowns, kids crafts, horseshoes and quoits, a Chinese auction and raffle prizes. Tickets are $30 for adults, $15 for anyone age six to 21, and free for children age five and under. That price includes all-you-can-eat food and beverage, and tickets can be purchased at Blue Ridge Communications or the Historic Smithton Inn.
Visit facebook.com/pounditpark for more information on fundraising events for Parker. More TURTLE RACE, page A6