The Elier Vela Foundation is a non-profit organization run by Karen Pedigo of Kentucky. She became acquainted with Elier while laid up in bed at Christmas time, recovering from heart surgery. She was, self-admittedly, feeling quite sorry for herself. She made the decision to turn her physical and mental heartache into a positive endeavor. Adopting and supporting deployed soldiers, she decided, would be her avenue of approach.
After several calls to the Army, someone eventually directed her to adoptaplatoon.org. The first name Karen received was Elier Vela. She sent the first of many packages to him on Valentine's Day, and Elier promptly responded. Karen was awestruck by his sweet disposition and polite demeanor. "I never met anyone more appreciative of socks" she has said.
Elier joined the military to serve the country, his country, which had given so much to his family; his family came to the United States from Mexico when he was 7 years old. Karen laments that Elier was extremely proud of his family and his service to his country. Through much correspondence, Karen and Elier shared personal stories and bonded as good friends so easily do.
After her plans of visiting him at his homecoming ceremony were squashed by her cardiologist, Karen decided to invite him to visit her and stay at The Corner House Bed & Breakfast (which she owns). The stipulation, though, was that he couldn't come visit until she was well enough for visitors and out of the way of the fatal dangers that come with heart surgery. Elier agreed, but sadly when plans were finally put into motion for a visit, he discovered that he was stricken with advanced testicular cancer.
Karen demanded that she would come visit him now that she was well enough to do so, but Elier refused. He didn't want Karen to see him like that! After surgeries to remove tumors from the cancer that had ravaged his body, Elier was transfered to Walter Reed Military Hospital for stem cell treatments and to continue chemotherapy treatments. Karen called to check on him frequently. Sometimes he was too weak to come to the phone, but the final time they spoke, Elier told Karen that he was going home. Elier promised Karen that he was doing well and would soon visit.
One day, when Karen called to check on him at home, she was devastated by the news that Elier had passed away a few hours earlier.
In her grief, Karen Pedigo has yet again turned her heartache into hope. She has set up The Elier Vela Foundation, which sends care packages to deployed troops. She also has the goal of offering college scholarships to children of veterans (who has served on both the Iraq and Afghanistan fronts).
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