By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Kate Koehn and husband Tom Mallery gave birth to a daughter, Ana Cru, via Caesarian section in March of last year. But when she was born, Ana wasn’t breathing. Apparently something — possibly while she was in the womb — had gone terribly wrong.
“No one could tell us what happened,” says Koehn. “She has no known diagnosis.”
Koehn and Mallery say Ana Cru was left brain damaged.
“They were not even 100-percent sure she was going to make it through the first night,” says Mallery.
But Ana Cru was a fighter and survived. On her second day of life, Mallery says, he created a special bond with his baby girl.
“When I was on my way to see her, the song ‘Hang on Sloopy’ came on,” he says. “And I kept singing it to her over and over again. And from that day on, I called her Sloopy.”
Ana Cru spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit, then in and out of hospitals.
The couple originally lived in New Jersey, but moved to West Philadelphia so Ana could get the medical care she needed at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“For most of her hospitalizations, I lived in a hospital with her,” says Koehn. “I never returned to work. Dad would come visit on Saturdays. We saw each other once a week.”
Despite treatment, Ana was left with limited mobility, breathing only with the help of oxygen, and obtaining nourishment through a feeding tube inserted into her stomach.
Eventually, doctors recommended that Koehn and Mallery take Ana Cru home to hospice. The doe-eyed infant died at 11 months old.
“It was just so overwhelming,” says Mallery. “The love you have for your child is just so strong. We had all these feelings and we had nothing to do with them.”
After Ana died, Koehn and Mallery were left with boxes and boxes of unused, unopened medical supplies. Koehn says they tried to donate the supplies, but no one would take them, calling them unsanitary.
She says they soon learned that other families with special-needs children had the same problem. That’s when Project Sloopy was born.
“Think about how fast a child grows out of clothing,” says Koehn. “A child with medical needs grows out of the supplies every few months. People have given us things from a C-Pap machine to wound care, to feeding tubes, to formula.”
The couple takes the supplies as donations and redistributes them to those in need. Koehn says the goal is to reduce medical waste and help families lower the cost of expensive medical care.
Through Project Sloopy, the couple has received dozens of donations, including a gently used electric wheelchair fit for a child. The couple recently bought a van and plans to travel the country to deliver the products beginning in July.
“It’s a passion beyond passion for us, something we would have never conceived of if not for our daughter,” says Mallery. “We’re so grateful for her. We just want to share what we’ve been through and help others.”
But the passion is not without challenges. Ana Cru’s room is filled to capacity with supplies. The couple says Project Sloopy needs clean, dry storage space in Philadelphia so they can collect more. For more information or to help Project Sloopy, go to www.projectsloopy.com.
Hear the podcast…