When Mount Prospect residents Amanda and Mike Santoro lost their tiny daughter Cheyenne in March, they wanted a way to continue her legacy.
This Easter, patients of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital were the beneficiaries of Cheyenne's first gift. With the help of the Arlington Heights Barnes and Noble, the Little Giraffe Foundation was able to share more than 50 board books and a small monetary donation to continue an important spring tradition.
Cheyenne and her twin brother Evan arrived 14 weeks premature at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital on Feb. 10, 2011. Weighing only 590 grams, Cheyenne fought bravely for six weeks, but her premature kidneys simply were not developed enough to sustain her.
"It's hard to believe how well you can get to know a tiny baby in just six short weeks, but we learned so much about her," said Little Giraffe Foundation co-founder Amanda Santoro. "We learned Cheyenne was tough, that she was kind, and that she had an element of mischief in her behavior. And we're sad she didn't have the chance to share that with the rest of the world."
In the immediate days following their daughter's death, the Santoros set up the Little Giraffe Foundation in Cheyenne's honor. Dedicated to forwarding neonatal medical research and supporting the patients and parents of the NICU at Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital, the foundation has already raised close to $10,000.
"It's been important for us to keep Cheyenne's legacy going, and to help others like us in similar situations," Amanda Santoro said. "But we also want to salute the NICU team, which is exceptional. They're a wonderful group of people who truly care and are inspiring to work with," she added, citing the nursing team as well as Richard Kaplan, M.D., pediatric nephrologist.
Child Life services at Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital regularly delivers holiday gift bags to remind these NICU families that someone outside cares about them. For the foreseeable future, those gifts will be sponsored by the Little Giraffe Foundation.
"It's not easy to be a parent with a child in the NICU," said Linda Bensing, Child Life Specialist at Lutheran General. "Our group leads sibling medical play sessions and regularly delivers small gifts just to remind families that they aren't alone. These small things provide a sense of normalcy that can ease the stress of leaving your child every night."
This Easter, gifts consisted of a small toy and one of several board books that the NICU nurses could hand select for their patients. Classic titles like "Goodnight Moon," "Guess How Much I Love You," and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" were donated in English, Spanish, Polish and Arabic.
"Talking to your baby is one of the few things that parents can actually do in the NICU, but sometimes it's difficult to find the right words," Santoro said. "These books give parents the voice to share with their children."
For details about the Little Giraffe Foundation, visit littlegiraffefoundation.org. The foundation's next fundraising event will be at the Cubs Rooftop, Beyond the Ivy, at 12:30 p.m. May 30. Tickets are available online.
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