Heartstrings: The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal

Updated: May. 18, 2023 at 6:30 PM EDT

MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - There are few things in life that can be more jarring than hearing the words “you have cancer.”

It’s the start of a long journey ahead, filled with treatment, pain, and uncertainty. A journey that’s difficult for anyone to begin is even tougher when viewed through the eyes of an eight-year-old girl.

That’s the story of Evelyn Donaldson who first learned about her diagnosis back in April of 2021.

She had her parents and her sisters supporting her the whole time and we’re happy to say that Evelyn is now cancer free.

However, as you can imagine, 2021 wasn’t the best time for visiting people in the hospital with Covid restrictions still firmly in place.

Still, that didn’t stop Evelyn’s sisters, Anna and Reina, from being there emotionally.

Thanks to the Little Red Door Cancer Agency and the Sing Me a Story Foundation, the Donaldson sisters turned their sentiments into sentences and their bond into a book.

The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal cover(WNDU)

While none of the characters in the book resemble Evelyn, Anna, or Reina physically, it’s pretty clear where the inspiration for Ellie the Mermicorn, Jack the Shark, and Opal the Octopus come from.

That led an IUSB senior composition student to turn this story into a soundtrack that ended up being performed by the Penn High School Symphonic Orchestra in April.

Now that you know the backstory, it’s time to get comfy, maybe grab a box of tissues, and watch how the Adventures of Ellie, Jack and Opal came to life right in front of the three young sisters who inspired them.

“It kind of relates to how I was feeling in real life. Being away from each other brought us closer together in a way,” says Evelyn Donaldson who is now 11-months cancer free.

It’s what eventually brought them here to Penn High School, where they got a front-row seat to a story they know quite well, The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal.

Three sisters behind The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal.(WNDU)

“Even though it’s a four-and-a-half piece of music, it means so much more than just that. It’s taking a story, elevating it to a new level, and giving it a new voice, and impacting more lives,” said Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal composer Clara Hooten.

The story goes a little something like this:

Once upon a time, under the sea, there lived three friends: an octopus named Opal, a shark named Jack, and a Mermicorn named Ellie. These three friends have magical powers. Opal is a size shifter with the power to shrink and grow. Jack has the power of speed and invisibility. Ellie has the power to talk to all kinds of animals. These three friends travel around the sea using their powers to help others. One day, Jack and Opal went to Ellie’s house to play and Ellie’s mom told them Ellie was sick. The next day the friends came back but Ellie was getting worse. Jack and Opal knew they had to help their friend. They covered their mouths with seaweed masks and went into Ellie’s room to visit. Ellie was laying in bed reading a book.

“What are you reading,” asked Opal.

“A book about a magical golden seashell with a great healing pearl. The book says you can find it down by the caves,” said Ellie.

“You have to be better by Sea Camp,” exclaimed Jack.

Opal asked, “Do you think we can find the magical shell in time?”

Ellie replied, “Yes if you work together,”

The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal

“That initial separation for them was really hard so they would find little ways to connect,” said Evelyn’s mother Liz Donaldson.

“I think you can.”

Jack and Opal set off on their adventure across the sea in search of the magical golden shell. They looked all morning and could not find the cave. Then at night, when they were about to give up, a trail of glitter appeared.

Opal said, “The glitter can only be seen at night and will lead us to the cave.”

“Let’s follow it!” Jack called as he swam off.

Opal yelled, “Wait for me,” as she tried to keep up with Jack.

At the end of the glitter trial, the friends spotted a cave guarded by two electric eels. Jack and Opal hid in a seaweed bush.

Jack whispered to Opal, “You use your powers to shrink and swim into the cave. I will use my speed and invisible powers to make the eels chase me so you can get the golden shell and bring it back.” Opal agreed.

The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal

“They wrote these three characters, that are really themselves. The one character represents each of them,” said Penn High School Orchestra Director Anne Tschetter.

Jack jumped out of the bush and yelled, “You can’t catch me.”

The three eels began to chase Jack. Opal shrank to the size of Jack’s fin and slipped into the cave. Opal grabbed the shell, slipped back out of the cave’s opening, and hid in the seaweed bushes to wait for Jack. Jack had outrun the eels, used his power of invisibility, and sped back to Opal.

The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal

“When I got to ring the bell, I got this medal. It kind of tells me that I only have to take it one day at a time,” Evelyn says.

“For Evelyn, she just got to be a kid. She wasn’t a kid with cancer, she was just a kid again. And Little Red Door, one of their sayings is that they want to make the most of life and the least of cancer, and they have definitely helped us do that,” Liz said.

“When we give them a chance to give, we see a real sense of dignity and pride when they hear this awesome song,” says Sing Me a Story founder Austin Atteberry.

Together they swam safely back to Ellie’s house.

Jack and Opal gave the magical golden shell to Ellie. She opened it and ate the magical healing pearl. The pearl healed Ellie just in time for her and her friends to go to sea camp...where a new adventure begins. The end.

The Adventures of Ellie, Jack, and Opal

It’s what happened after the performance that really tied a bow on things.

Three gifts from the Penn High School Orchestra, that made this story even more real for the girls. Anna got her very own Opal the Octopus, Reina got Jack the Shark, and Evelyn—well she got her own magical healing shell for the two-hour drive back to Indianapolis with Ellie the Mermicorn waiting for her when she got home. I guess you can find anything on the internet.

Evelyn, Anna, and Reina with their sea creatures(WNDU)
Evelyn Donaldson and Ellie the Mermicorn(WNDU)

This story starts with these three girls, but it doesn’t come together like this without the great work from the composer Clara Hooten, the amazing performance by the Symphonic Orchestra at Penn High School directed by Ann Tschetter, the folks who presented this amazing opportunity at Sing Me A Story, and of course the doctors and nurses that saved Evelyn’s life so she could write this book with her sisters. Now we wait for the logical next step, a sequal—maybe.

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