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Henrico hero brings smiles to sick children across the country

Posted at 1:41 PM, May 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-07 20:18:31-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico teen Adalaide O’Connor thrives on show tunes, but the aspiring singer’s young life hit a sour note about five years ago. She had been living in pain for years when doctors finally diagnosed the then nine-year-old girl with Crohn’s Disease. Adalaide had to have surgery, followed by a  lengthy hospital stay.

"It feels like your stomach is on fire," she said. "Like someone punched you in the gut constantly."

The child was down and out when doctors determined they had to take part of her intestine out.

"I was stunned," Adalaide said. "Talking to my mom. Talking to the nurses. I was really feeling bad about myself."

Adalaide O’Connor was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age nine.

Adalaide O’Connor was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age nine.

But an angel would soon arrive in Adalaides’ hospital room. The angel, Adalaide’s talent coach Ellen Papa, is known to deliver magic in a bag. While laughter may be the best medicine, Ellen said she believed music soothes the soul.

"The brainwaves change. The heart rate changes. Everything changes in a positive way," Papa said.

In 2007, Ellen founded the non-profit Music That’s Mine. She burns, bundles and sends CDs and, if needed, music players to Alzheimer’s patients and people who suffering from other crippling illnesses. The music arrives at homes or hospital rooms.

Ellen Papa burns, bundles and sends CDs and, if needed, music players to Alzheimer’s patients and people who suffering from other crippling illnesses.

Ellen Papa burns, bundles and sends CDs and, if needed, music players to Alzheimer’s patients and people who suffering from other crippling illnesses.

"I think (music) touches us more than we know honestly," Papa said. "Well, wherever music is needed we’ll go."

"Just her giving that to me was really special," Adalaide, who received her favorite hits from Broadway like Little Mermaid and Annie, said.

Whatever your tastes Papa can deliver. From Sinatra and Swift to Bieber and Beethoven you can find any selection in Ellen’s home office. Hundreds of unsuspecting patients from New York to New Mexico have been touched by Ellen generosity -- free of charge. Her talent agency, Studio Performance Academy, helps support her efforts. She also depends on donations of CDs to keep her project afloat.

"Honestly, nothing warms my heart more," Papa said. "There is so much joy in music for you and me and everyone but it goes so much deeper for people who are not feeling well."

After her bag of music arrived, Adalaide soon found herself on the road to recovery.

"Now I know all of the lyrics to all of the songs because I listen to this so much," Adalaide said.

Adalaide’s mother, Kelly, called Ellen Papa’s generosity priceless.

"It is a gift you don’t know you want and it’s a gift you don’t know what to ask for," the thankful mom said.

While Papa might not be able to provide cure all, she does promise to make you feel better by listening. And that is a melody which hits the right tune.

"Without a doubt I know they feel that love that comes with it," Papa said.

If you would like make a donation or request music for a sick individual, you can reach Ellen Papa here.

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Greg McQuade and CBS 6 News are featuring local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.