(CHICAGO, IL) – When 17-year-old Caley Trepac of Plainfield was in the hospital recovering from brain surgery three years ago, she found comfort with her family and a special brown teddy bear at her side. For other kids and infants she heard crying in the pediatric ward, Caley wanted to give them the same sense of security so they wouldn’t feel afraid.
“Hospitals can be a scary place for kids,” she said. “There are a lot of people coming in and out of your room. I wanted to give them something comforting to hold on to.”
Caley was diagnosed at age 13 with Chiari, a serious neurological disorder as the cerebellum – the bottom part of the brain – descends out of the skull and crowds the spinal cord, putting pressure on both the brain and spine. She required surgery to remove a portion of her skull and two vertebrae.
Suffering from headaches, numbness and fatigue before the operation, and the months that followed during her recovery, Caley missed out on school and activities with friends. But she pushed past her pain and thought of ways she could help other kids like her.
One year after her surgery, the Plainfield South High School student started a toy drive in her community to collect stuffed animals. Through social media, Caley spread the word to bring stuffed animals to collection sites at the local library and schools. Caley was overwhelmed by the response of hundreds of donated stuffed animals. She took them to Rush University Medical Center to the delight of many children that holiday season. The next year she collected hundreds more for kids at John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital in Cook County.
Since 2013, Caley has collected more than 1,700 stuffed animals for young patients. She put a twist on her remarkable efforts last November, inviting people to join “Stuff-A-Paw-Looza: A Beary Special Cause.” Participants donated just $11 and their time to stuff and build a plush bear, which Caley took on rounds to hospitals for more sick children.
While Caley still struggles with her chronic condition, she’s determined not to let it stop her from living her life and helping others. Now a senior in high school, Caley is looking forward to graduating with her class and attending Illinois State University in the fall. She plans to become a teacher so she can work with kids. Caley still has her brown bear from her hospital stays and plans to take it with her to college to comfort her when she’s away from home.
The Youth Award is presented by ITW to an outstanding individual(s) who are involved in an ongoing situation in which a commitment is made to the community through acts of kindness, courage or unselfishness in response to a need.
The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is honoring local people who demonstrated acts of heroism in the community at the organization’s 14th annual Heroes Breakfast, Thursday, April 28 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave. For more information: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/local/il/chicago/American-Red-Cross-Honors-Local-Heroes.
Written by: Patricia Kemp, Communications Manager, American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois