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Local family carries on daughter’s legacy: Helen’s Hugs raises money for special needs kids.

Photo contributed by the Corontzes family

Helen Corontzes in 2005 at her second favorite place, Pawley’s Island. Her favorite place was Clemson.

Note: This article’s original publication was March 31st. The article was a preview for the annual Helen’s Hugs 5K run/walk, which took place on April 10. A follow-up article was published on April 11, 2016, which can also be found on The Tiger’s website.
Helen Corontzes’s mother, Lesa Corontzes, describes Helen as “the kind of person who, when you saw her, any time you ran into her, you always got a hug from her.” This trait inspired her mother to “be more of a hugger because it came so natural to her.” 
The trait also inspired the foundation created in her memory, Helen’s Hugs, which sponsors a 5k run/walk in Clemson on April 10.
Helen Corontzes passed away in March 2006, due to brain trauma incurred in a car accident. 
The 19-year-old was with her family, stopped at a traffic light when a car speeding at 70 miles per hour hit them from behind. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. 
George Corontzes, Helen’s father, recalls the confusion in the aftermath: “All of a sudden, you’ve got ambulances piling in, a helicopter, so Helen gets airlifted to McLeod Hospital in Florence, which is a highly acclaimed brain trauma hospital. It’s a great hospital period, but their brain trauma is supposed to be one of the best in the nation.” 
There were no criminal charges and no lawsuit filed against the driver.
Helen died later that night.
To preserve Helen’s positive spirit, her friends and their families began Helen’s Hugs. With the help of generous donations and volunteer assistance, the foundation has financed thousands of equestrian therapy lessons for special needs children whose families may not have be able to afford them. 
Helen “was an accomplished equestrian,” says her father. “We wanted to do something that Helen would love involving special needs children and horses.”  
Helen’s Hugs also sponsors a 5k run/walk for raising money. Mr. Corontzes also notes “it’s also a hangout … there’s fun and food, and it’s free. There’s a bake sale. And there are activities for kids … It’s really a 5k run/walk and hangout. We encourage people to stay after the run and have a good time.”
Helen gave blood regularly, was a nursing student and was an organ donor. Her heart was given to a 14-year-old boy named Josh, her kidney and pancreas to a woman named Laura, the mother of a three year old daughter. The Corontzes’ stay in contact with both organ recipients. Her liver, kidney, lungs and skin were also donated.
“I cannot believe it’s been ten years without Helen,” Ms. Corontzes said. “I think, look at these people who’ve gotten a decade of life [because 
of her].”
Organ transplants are a delicate process, Mr. Corontzes adds, and some of the people who received one of her organs had been rejected for transplants before because they were not ready in time. 
“When you get literal about it, Helen’s heart never stopped beating,” George said. “We felt it. We got to know [Josh] so well that we asked, “Can we feel it?”
Laura, who received a kidney and pancreas, participates in the 5k.
Ten years have passed, and Lesa Corontzes remembers her daughter as “simply beautiful inside and out.” 
“If you greeted [Helen], you got a hug. It was just the most sincere thing. It was just the way she was.”
To donate to Helen’s Hugs or to learn how you can participate in the 5k, visit

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