Our Story

This story begins on the morning of July 27, 1980.  George and Therese Gwilliam were on vacation in Gettysburg when Therese started labor.  Cori was born 7 weeks early weighing 4 pounds and 2.5 ounces. 

George Gwilliam remembers counting fingers and toes when he first saw his daughter.  George said she had 10 of each, so he said, “She’s doing good”.  George had no idea, however, that something much smaller than a finger or a toe was threatening the life of his daughter.  Cori was born with a tracheosophogeal fistula or simply known as TEF.  This is a rare congenital malformation that occurs once every 3,000 to 5,000 births. The defect involves an abnormal passageway-a-fistula- between the esophagus and the trachea.  This fistula put Cori into constant danger.  Anything that would go into her mouth could pass down the esophagus through the fistula and into her lungs.  Foods, liquids and acidic juices in the lungs can cause pneumonia or serious lung damage and could cut off Cori’s air passage.  

Cori spent the first two years of her life at death’s edge and as a patient except for two weeks that Cori spent with her parents at home for Christmas.  In the frigid morning hours of January 12,1982, 18-month old Cori Gwilliam of Harvey’s Lake was bundled up and whisked aboard the Life Flight Helicopter on the rooftop of Geisinger Medical Center of Danville, Pa. Her destination was Children’s Hospital Pittsburgh for a surgery that would change her life forever.  After 3 separate surgeries, Cori had a transplanted esophagus and she had cheated death again.
 
With most of the major life threatening incidents behind the Gwilliams, Cori came home on a respirator.  She was the first patient to come home to a rural environment on a respirator and was a patient of Pennsylvania Children’s Ventilator program.  She was finally weaned after 2.5 years from the respirator.  George was chosen by Surgeon General Everett Koop, MD, to serve on a board concerning ventilator dependent children.  A manuscript was written concerning the outcomes of this board.
 
Cori was now ready to live her life.  Cori has a contagious smile that caught the hearts of her teachers and therapist from pre-school to high school graduation.  Cori was voted by the entire senior female (non-disabled) class members as prom queen. 
 
In 1990, the Gwilliam family had a miraculous addition to their family, a baby girl named Tara.  Tara would excel in all of her academics.  When Tara was 14, she was stricken with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. With these illnesses, Tara experiences a lot of pain and unrecovering fatigue but this did not stop her from being her sister’s best friend and an advocate for those who could not advocate for themselves. Tara has served from an aid to a program specialist at Cori’s Place. Tara was awarded a Bachelor of Science Degree Summa Cum Laude in Special Education and Early Childhood. Tara’s Snack Shack, which teaches pre-vocational, vocational and life skills was named after Tara who champions for the rights of the disabled.  Tara married Ryan Gorski, who assists at Cori's Place as needed and does annual fire safety training with the individuals.  Ryan and Tara welcomed a baby girl in 2014 who  frequently visits Cori's Place and the individuals. 

Cori’s Place was founded in 2002 by the Gwilliam Family in honor of their daughter Cori, to provide a loving environment for young adults with disabilities.  When Cori graduated high school, the Gwilliams were not satisfied with other programs being offered at the time, but they also could not let Cori live her life on the couch in front of the television.  This led them to the idea of Cori's Place, a program where Cori, her friends, and other recent graduates could go during the day to maintain the skills they have already learned while developing new ones.  Life skills, social skills, and vocational skills are taught at Cori’s Place.  The program started on Main Street in Luzerne, Pa with only 5 individuals and in 2011 it moved to Wyoming Street in Hanover Township, Pa.  To learn about the current program, please click the program link. 

 We hope you enjoyed learning about the Gwilliams and how Cori's Place got started. Email us or take a tour to see more of what Cori's Place is about and meet the Gwilliams, who work there full time.  We look forward to meeting you!