Eight-year-old Caidyn Young had three questions of her surgeon at the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Cincinnati, Ohio. One, is it going to hurt? Two, can I bring my special Shriner stuffed bears? Three, can I get my ears pierced? According to her mother, Christine Todd-Young, the answers were a qualified yes (painkillers will knock down the pain), yes, and yes.

In February, she will be traveling north with her mom and dad to correct a congenital deformity — microtia, or “little ear” — where the external ear doesn’t develop normally.  It’s a rare condition — only affecting one in 8,000 children.

The entire expense including transportation, surgery, rehabilitation, accommodations and even meals and tutoring, is being underwritten by Shriners International. The group has a local chapter, Marathon Shrine Club, headed by President Chris Clauss.

“Chris and the local Shriners have been helping raise money for kids for years. Now they are helping a kid they actually know,” said Todd-Young, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Middle Keys.

“She’s a great kid,” said Clauss. “You hope you never know somebody who needs that kind of help, but now we have one and it’s exciting to be part of the process of healing.”

The women’s auxiliary group of the Shriners, the Keyettes, held its annual banquet in mid-December and asked young Caidyn to be the guest of honor. Her mom said she was just as surprised as the rest of the guests when her daughter took the floor to speak to the women and thank them for them involvement.

“She got a little teary eyed,” Todd-Young said. “When she sat down, I asked her if she was okay. Caidyn said, ‘I’m just so happy!’”

Todd-Young said there’s no way her family could have afforded the surgery on their own, at a cost of something like $25,000. “Health insurance companies consider this to be a ‘cosmetic issue.’ Believe me, an 8-year-old girl does not feel the same way,” she said. The eight-hour surgery entails removing Caidyn’s own rib cartilage and skin grafts from the back of her head to build an appropriate-size external ear. Two more surgeries will follow.

According to Clauss, the 80-member Shrine Club in Marathon is one of the most hardworking in Florida. He said the group often out-fundraises clubs in South Florida and he chalks it up to the generous nature of Marathon and Key Colony Beach residents. By far, its biggest fundraiser of the year is the “boot drive” where Shriners collect spare change at the traffic lights in Marathon. All of the money goes to the Shrine Hospitals (there are 22) or to the Shrine Transportation Fund.

“You’d be surprised how many people give. And then there’s the ones that say, ‘Here’s one hundred dollars. You helped my nephew,’” Clauss said.

And while the Shriners are a hardworking bunch, they also know how to make merry.

“We wear funny hats and drive funny cars and you can’t believe how fast I can make a balloon animal,” Claus said, laughing, “but it’s all for the kids.”

And if you’re helping kids, you might as well have fun.

Caidyn Young, 8, holds up a gift card from the Keyettes, the women’s auxiliary arm of the Marathon Shrine Club. The women showered her with gifts in December, as well as made it possible for her to receive the life-altering surgery.

Children reveal their innocence with the modesty of their dreams.” — Unknown

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