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Children who are newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the Child Life Activity Center in Winthrop-University Hospital's Hagedorn Pediatric Inpatient Center will receive a backpack stuffed with toys, games and coloring books, thanks to the generosity of 13-year-old Alexandra McDonnell, a resident of Westbury and student at W.T. Clarke Middle School. Alexandra, a member the hospital's Kindred Spirits support group, donated 25 backpacks filled with goodies to help calm the fears of boys and girls who are diagnosed with the disease after witnessing the struggles that her younger brother Jonathan endured.

After Jonathan was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 1999, Alexandra and her family joined the Kindred Spirits support group at Winthrop's Diabetes Education Center. Established in 1985, the monthly group brings together families of children living with Type 1 Diabetes. While she was preparing for her bat mitzvah, Alexandra chose to focus her service project on creating gifts that would help take children's minds off of spending time at the hospital.

Through generous donations made by family and friends, Alexandra collected an array of items in order to assemble the bags. Ironically, after beginning the project, Alexandra was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes on March 13 - the same day that her brother was diagnosed, seven years earlier. Twice since then, Alexandra has delivered two collections of backpacks to the Child Life Activity Center in Winthrop-University Hospital's Hagedorn Pediatric Inpatient Center.

Accompanying the wealth of toys in each of the backpacks is a personalized letter from Alexandra, relaying her positive experience as a young diabetes patient and offering friendship to newly diagnosed children. The letter also contains Alexandra's personal e-mail address and home phone number for patients or parents seeking support.

Alexandra is currently crafting her next donation, which will include 15 additional backpacks abundant in toys.

"We are so impressed that such a young woman would come up with such a creative idea to help young diabetes patients cope with the fear that may occur after diagnosis," said AnnMarie DiFrancesca, director of Winthrop's Child Life Program. "The backpacks that Alexandra put together and so generously donated to the Child Life Center are certain to put smiles on our young patients' faces."

To minimize a child's fear and reduce the stress associated with the hospital experience, Winthrop's Certified Child Life Specialists address the unique emotional and developmental needs of hospitalized children through supervised play, recreation, age-appropriate answers to questions, education and emotional support. They also work with parents to help them gain a better understanding of the experience.

For more information about Winthrop-University Hospital and its programs, call 1-866-WINTHROP.


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