Fittest loser
Article updated: 5/16/2013 5:12 AM

Palatine girl with leukemia gets bedroom makeover

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Kennedy Khalimsky's bedroom -- a cute space with lime green stripes on the wall and enough pink to thrill most little girls -- hasn't always been a comfort.

That's been the case since February 2012, at least, when the 6-year-old was diagnosed with a type of leukemia and began a special 2-year treatment protocol. Being confined to bed at her Palatine home often means nausea, vomiting or even a common cold are holding her little body hostage.

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Volunteers with Special Spaces worked Wednesday to make the same room a place of peace, transforming it into Kennedy's new Victorian-era princess retreat.

Kennedy deemed the room "awesome," and her mom, Edan Gelt, was just as impressed.

"Wow, I'm floored. I'm totally amazed. It's incredible. It's unbelievable," Gelt said.

"Never, ever, could I have done that for her. And it's funny, because when your kids are sick, you're focused on getting them better, making them happy, and this is not something I would have ever thought of doing. And obviously she's overjoyed."

The national nonprofit organization was founded in 2004 with the idea that children battling life-threatening illnesses need their own special space. Palatine resident Kelly Knox started Special Spaces Chicagoland last year.

Kennedy's bedroom is the fourth Knox and her crew have made over, and the first in the Northwest suburbs. Before a team of about 15 volunteers descended on the home Wednesday, working 10 hours for the big reveal, several weeks of planning went into designing the space.

Kennedy, a kindergartner at Pleasant Hills School in Palatine, was a key collaborator.

"Kennedy has very exquisite taste and picked out all these peaches and muted pinks and white," Knox said. "She's more of a queen than a princess, in that regard, and very different from any other 6-year-old I've come across."

Kennedy first showed symptoms in December 2011 during a family vacation to Mexico with her mom, her dad Gene Khalimsky, and her big brother Maddox.

Each day on the calendar that hangs in the kitchen is filled with medication doses or trips to Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood for treatment.

Despite the toll, Kennedy, whose hair has started to grow back, hasn't missed much school and continues to do gymnastics and dance. The budding artist also draws whenever she can.

Her family heard about Special Spaces through a neighbor.

"We have a hard time accepting anything from anyone, but that room for kids is so important," Gelt said. "It could represent time in her life that's not so great, so hopefully this will symbolize a new beginning and bring some happiness."

Integral to the makeover was New Trier High School senior and Special Spaces intern Georgia Papadatos. The 18-year-old from Northfield took advantage of her school's senior project program, which gives students the opportunity to leave school for four weeks to work in a field of their choice. She helped with fundraising, painted furniture, ran errands and recruited volunteers.

Each bedroom Special Spaces transforms needs $3,000 and about 15 volunteers. Home Depot in Naperville has donated thousands of dollars in materials, and a board member seeks corporate sponsorships.

The organization will do 13 makeovers this year, and scheduling already has begun for 2014. Most chapters do about five makeovers annually.

Knox, who previously had a Drapery Workroom business, said she volunteered to decorate transient housing and helped with Meals on Wheels. Something was missing, however, until she heard about Special Spaces.

"It was my 'aha' moment," Knox said. "This is what every moment in my life has led me to, and it's truly a gift for me to do what God put me on this earth to do."

To learn more about Special Spaces and Kennedy's story, visit specialspaces.org and mylittlekennedy.blogspot.com.

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