With plenty of help from classmates in Buffalo Grove, Stephen Cohn is using his spring break illness to bring a little joy to some youth in Puerto Rico.
The 14-year-old Buffalo Grove resident, who was airlifted off a cruise ship in March because of two bleeding ulcers and flown to Puerto Rico for surgery, has collected and donated books and DVDs for the hospital where he stayed.
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"I decided to collect books for the patients in the intensive care unit in Centro Medico Hospital in Puerto Rico because, when I was in the hospital, I noticed that the patients were underprivileged by the fact that there were minimal amounts of books to read or DVDs to watch," Cohn said.
Starting his collection about two weeks after returning from Puerto Rico, Cohn and his friends gathered more than 1,500 books and DVDs.
Hundreds of books and DVDs were packed into four boxes weighing a combined 200 pounds and shipped to the hospital in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico this week.
Some the donated items also are being given to Reach Out and Read (Illinois chapter) and Bernie's Book Bank, two local organizations that get books into the hands of low-income kids.
Cohn made headlines when the teen, his mother and a nurse were airlifted off the deck of the 11-story Carnival Dream ship. He was flown by U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to Puerto Rico for three surgeries on his bleeding ulcers.
"My medical situation has improved," said Cohn, who will be a freshman this fall at Stevenson High School. "I am very thankful that the medical staff at the hospital in Puerto Rico, and my local doctors, have helped me get better."
As part of his Libros4Ninos drive, Cohn collected books and DVDs at Aptakisic Junior High School in Buffalo Grove with support from science teacher Susan Brontman, who runs an after-school Ecology Club. The book and DVD collection campaign was part of a recycling push.
Cohn said he received donations from students and teachers. He also received donations from Pritchett Elementary School in Buffalo Grove, which he once attended, and from Temple Chai in Long Grove.
"I figured that books provide entertainment for the patients who are in the hospital with nothing to do. I just felt that it could help them," he said. "Libros4Niņos is Spanish for Books4Kids. I came up with the name because, at the time, I was in my second year of Spanish class at Aptakisic and thought this was a name that everyone could comprehend."
Cohn, who will play trumpet in Stevenson's Marching Patriots and in the freshmen band, said he posted collection status updates on Facebook. Friends at other schools in the area offered to help and they started dropping off books at his house.
"We are very proud of Stephen and how he has channeled his drive and energy to give back to other kids in need," said Michelle Cohn, Stephen's mom. "We saw that many (in Puerto Rico) were from lower income situations and felt that this was something we could support that would improve the situations of kids in difficult situations."