The Naples Winter Wine Festival, a charity wine auction that raises millions of dollars for children in Collier County, kicks off on Thursday before Saturday’s auction. The group behind the festival, the Naples Children and Education Fund, gives grants to nearly 50 nonprofits in the area, and the Wells family is just one with children that have been helped.
Brian Wells runs Campiello, an Italian restaurant at 1177 3rd St. S. in Naples. More importantly, he’s the father of three girls. One of them, 10-year-old Aria, has been in and out of the hospital since she was born.
“My youngest daughter, Aria, has been a part of Lighthouse now for 10 years and I actually had no idea that it was part of the Naples Winter Wine Fest,” Wells said.
Aria Wells is much like any other 10-year-old: She likes trips to Universal Studios, cheerleading and posing for cameras. But most 10-year-olds don’t have to deal with strabismus, an eye disorder that prevents Aria’s eyes from properly aligning when she looks at something.
10-year-old Aria Wells. Courtesy of the Wells family
“The more that we would put something in front of her, her eyes would just turn in every time,” Wells said.
That diagnosis was part of a very difficult few years for the Wells family. Early in Katie Wells’ pregnancy, the parents discovered she had a rare condition called “trapped twins.”
“You have two babies, and one is viable, and one is not,” Brian Wells said. “Aria was the viable one, and our daughter Brielle was not. But Brielle still takes nutrition from Aria and the blood flow and everything else.”
Katie carried both girls until 28 weeks, knowing the whole time Brielle would not survive but that little Aria had a fighting chance and may have complications.
“To this day, you know, it doesn’t get any easier,” Wells said. “My wife and I just kind of feel like she carries some of her sister with her, as much spunk and energy that she has.”
Brian Wells. Credit: WINK News
That spunk has helped Aria get through three corrective eye surgeries, and she’ll need more surgeries as she keeps growing. Another thing that’s helped is Lighthouse of Collier County, a nonprofit that provides support and financial aid to the visually impaired. Lighthouse receives grant money from NCEF.
“The summer camp she’s done for the past 10 years, you know, even during COVID; lighthouse provided a virtual summer camp, which is really neat,” Wells said.
Services helped Aria master things we all take for granted, like riding a bike and tying her shoes. But it was the empathy the group provides that Wells says changed everything.
“Just knowing that there’s other people going through the same thing that you are and being able to relate is nice,” Wells said.
WINK News and Gulfshore Life are sponsors of the Naples Winter Wine Festival.