By Ashleigh Eisbrener
Stella DeFrisco was born August 9, 2011 with spinal bifida and spent the first six months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. “When I walked into the NICU and saw my daughter for the first time hooked up to so many machines and monitors, I was scared,” says mother Leslie DeFrisco. “When I looked at her beautiful face, and the nurses had a hand-tied bow stuck in her hair, it gave me a feeling of normalcy.”
From there on out, Leslie and her husband, Rocco DeFrisco, dressed up Stella as often as possible with adorable clothes and fancy bows. If she couldn’t have clothes or a bow, she had cute socks on her feet. Stella became known for her accessories around the hospital, and each day, the staff looked forward to seeing what Stella was wearing. Although nothing in Leslie and Rocco’s life felt “normal,” this brought a tremendous amount of comfort.
Following Stella’s time in the NICU, she was able to finally go home. However, after five months of brave fighting, Stella lost her battle on July 15, 2012. Leslie and Rocco wanted to do something to keep Stella’s legacy alive and remembered how the accessories transformed the otherwise stressful, sterile hospital environment. At Stella’s memorial, they requested hats and bows in lieu of flowers. “The amount of hats and bows we received was amazing,” Leslie says.
She titled this collection Stella’s Secret Stash, and it began taking on a life of its own. The local student council started making bows, college cheerleaders began sending bows, elementary schools organized bow drives, local library friends made hats, gifted programs created blankets, wonderful ladies started sewing Stelladorable hats and the outpouring of people wanting to help continued to grow. “We were beyond excited and grateful,” Leslie says.
Today, all babies in the NICU and pediatric floors at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital receive hats, bows and socks to provide parents with the same comfort these items gave Leslie and Rocco. “We hear from the nurses that the parents start crying happy tears when they see their baby boys and girls dressed up. It provides them with a memory of a lifetime,” Leslie says. “Not every baby makes it out of the NICU, so the pictures they have while the babies are there last a lifetime.”
Stella’s Secret Stash is in the process of achieving 501(c)3 status. If you’d like to help, you can donate hats, bows, headbands, socks and other accessories; organize an accessory drive at your school or office; or make a monetary donation, sent to Stella’s Secret Stash, P.O. Box 309, Mount Prospect, IL 60056 or submitted online at www.stellassecretstash.org. “A $5 donation goes a long way!” says Leslie.