A Bethel Park Girl Scout troop learned a lesson in life and loss last week, and the families of critically ill children are richer for it.
Thirteen members of Girl Scout Troop 55043 gathered Saturday at the Bethel Park home of co-leader Sarah Runco to stuff care bags for families who spend lots of time in a child's hospital room.
Called "Zack Packs," the care bags are part of Zachary's Mission, named for the late son of Mrs. Runco's friend, Patricia Vince of Greensburg. Zachary Vince was born on June 13, 2008, with a congenital heart defect and died 15 days later as he waited for a heart transplant.
In his memory, Mrs. Vince founded the nonprofit Zachary's Mission in 2010 to support the families of critically ill children with their immediate needs.
Also at the Saturday gathering, Mrs. Runco told the Scouts that her daughter, Macie, 9, who is a troop member, had a twin sister, Kate, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and lived just one day.
She and her husband, Bill, also lost another daughter, Celia, who was born with a congenital brain defect in 2001 and lived for three days.
Both children died in Mrs. Runco's arms.
"You do not have to be sad all the time, but you can help other mommies and daddies who lost babies,'' she told the Scouts.
Rather than dwelling on their losses, the family honors the girls by raising awareness of the birth defects, Mrs. Runco said.
Macie displayed a T-shirt she designed with "K for Kate" in the center of a heart that she wore in a Congenital Heart Foundation fundraising walk last year.
She also distributed stickers she made that depicted Kate and Celia surrounded by those who helped the family through the difficult times.
The Scouts stuffed lunch bags with candy, drinks, peanuts, gum, popcorn and more to include in Zack Packs, which also contain shampoo, toothbrushes, soap and more.
They attached a self-designed, traditional Girl Scout SWAP -- Special Whatchamacallits Affectionately Pinned -- tag to each Zack Pack in memory of Kate.
The special Zack Packs will be delivered to the cardiac intensive care unit at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC during Congenital Heart Awareness Week, which runs through next Thursday.
Macie said she felt happy about sharing her twin sister's story.
Kelsey Aronhalt, 10, said the day's gathering taught her the importance of helping people in the hospital, while Makayla Yee, 9, said stuffing the packs made her want to help others even more.
"I learned that helping people is a very nice thing to do," Kerrianne Troesch, 9, said.
Troop co-leader Marcie Yee said the afternoon was all about revelations.
"It was a chance for Macie to tell her fellow Scouts about her twin sister, and a chance for the girls to see how big the world is -- it is more than what goes on inside their classroom, she said. "They realize that doing something small like this reaches out and helps others."
To donate to Zachary's Mission, mail a check to Zachary's Mission, P.O. Box 841, Greensburg 15601; call 724-832-2207; or go to www.zacharysmission.org.
Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: email@example.com.