Sam Collins arrived into this world weighing less than 2 pounds and accompanied by enough doom and gloom predictions to overflow his hospital bassinet.
Despite eight major surgeries before he was 2, Sam and his parents haven't let those predictions keep him from passing the milestones doctors warned them never to expect: holding up his head, sitting, breathing without oxygen, walking. Sam has Down syndrome and Infantile Spasms, a life-threatening form of epilepsy. RaeAnn Collins, of Lindenhurst, constantly marvels at how hard her son has had to work to accomplish what others take for granted. And she admits especially loving times when Sam, 6, is naughty: "We hoped and prayed for naughty for so many years."
She and her husband, Patrick, have been in enough hospitals and doctors' offices to know what other parents experience. Many appointments offered nothing but bad news until Collins one day had enough and insisted doctors say one nice thing, even if it was only to compliment the soft blankets volunteers gave Sam. "He would become a little less of a number," she says.
Now she's trying to do that for other kids.
Collins uses time spent waiting for Sam's appointments or during 7-year-old son Andrew's religious education classes to make soft, colorful ponchos for kids at Advocate Lutheran General Children's Hospital in Park Ridge. The ponchos cover what hospital gowns won't and do not interfere with IVs, monitors and tubes.
Each poncho comes with a note: "Hi, friend. My name is Sam, and I spent lots of time in the hospital, too, so my mom made this especially for you."
"This is something I can do and maybe some other parents will know that somebody else is thinking about their kid; they are not just another number in a hospital bed," Collins says.
The idea has caught on. Collins regularly hears from others who want to make ponchos for kids or give her fleece. "You don't have to have a lot of money or even a fabulous talent to do something nice for someone else," she says.
To receive a Poncho Project kit, contact Collins at email@example.com.
Best advice ever received: "Don't handle him with kid gloves all the time. Let him get dirty, let him play in the mud, just like a regular kid would."
The one thing you have learned: "Slow and steady wins the race. It's kind of like our mantra. Sam will do what Sam's going to do when Sam wants to do it. He's going to do it; we just can't be too impatient."
Your hopes for Sam's future: "That he will experience as many random acts of kindness as possible, that people will look at what he can do and not what he can't do, that people will accept him just for Sam and not look at him and pity him."