Sister collects items for home where her infant brother stayed

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Rebekah Funk was only 4 years old when her brother, John, was born. Though she was young, she said she remembers how stressful that time was for her family.

Unlike the joy and happiness surrounding most births, the Funk family was told to make preparations for their new baby’s certain death. John was born full-term after a pregnancy that had been without complications. According to his father, Shawn, John’s pulmonary artery did not dilate, causing him to go into respiratory distress.

Mr. Funk explained that John was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, a heart-lung bypass machine.

“We were told he had less than 5 percent chance of survival and to make funeral arrangements, which we did, but he fought onward,” Mr. Funk said.

On December 3rd, John celebrated his 12th birthday and is in fifth grade at Hosack Elementary where his mother, Anne, is a teacher. John has high functioning autism, a result of his complicated neo-natal period, said Mr. Funk.

In celebration of his birthday, Rebekah wanted to honor her little brother.

“We were sitting around discussing John’s birthday and how he had an incredible journey and she decided she wanted to do something special,” Mr. Funk said.

Now 16 and a 10th grader at North Allegheny Intermediate High School, Rebekah decided to reach out to the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh, the place John stayed for four weeks after his initial hospitalization at Children’s Hospital.

Rebekah contacted Lindsey Carter, institution and giving manager, who made a suggestion to her.

“She asked me to think of things that were important to me when my brother was there, and I immediately thought of the times that we spent ‘nesting’ with my family at the hospital,” Rebekah said.

“Nesting” is what the home refers to when the families stay at the home in a hotel- like room so they can be near their children. Since many families are at the home unexpectedly, they may need things such as toiletries, snacks, games, and other items.

“They were gracious to me and my family and provided us with many essentials to help us have a sense of ‘family time,’

With the help of her family, Rebekah put the word out to family and friends and soon donations started rolling in. Her father, a teacher at O’Hara Elementary in the Fox Chapel School District, reached out to the community there and her mother reached out to others at Hosack Elementary School. Rebekah also did a presentation at Faith United Methodist Church in Fox Chapel where her family attends.

“I just couldn’t believe how generous everyone was. I have so many items that I will be able to take baskets down throughout the year,” she said.

Rebekah collected toiletries, board games, and items for children, water bottles, snacks, books and magazines to put into baskets for the families. Some made monetary donations for other items and the baskets themselves. She also has coordinated a dinner that she and her family will host at the Home on December 23. Friends and family are helping with the meal preparation and will help serve.

“The home-cooked meal is a special touch. We often get people doing projects, but this is a bit outside of the box,” said Tara Stief, communications and marketing manager for the Home.

According to Ms. Stief, there are eight rooms at the Home that are usually full. Since patients come from all over, so coould the families staying there.

“The items that Rebekah has collected can help make them feel at home,” she said.

For Rebekah, the project is a way to show others how important John is to her.

“I remember being with my parents there and playing puzzles. And I remember being happy that I was with my parents and little brother. I can’t imagine live without him,” she said.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:

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