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Sitting in a Georgia hospital bed in the fall of 2008, Jamie Bacigalupo, a shy, red-headed, green-eyed 5-year-old and her mother, Judy Bacigalupo, felt alone.
It was close to Christmas and a hospital was the last place they wanted to be.
But there they were at an overnight sleep study to determine why Jamie, who a few months earlier was diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy, or BRE, was having so many seizures.
“I wanted to stay home,” Jamie said. “I didn’t want to go. I was scared because of all the stuff they were going to do to me.”
But a group of kind people stopped by her room and brought gift bags filled with stuffed animals, goodies and games.
“I felt really happy,” Jamie said. “My mom and I had fun. We played with the games the people dropped off. We colored and my mom took pictures and we sent them to my sisters at home. I really loved the stuffed animal the people with the dog brought.”
This random act of kindness resonated deeply with Jamie, who “wanted to do nice things for other kids.”
Two years later, with the help of her mother, they started Angels4Epilepsy, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for epilepsy and also brings comfort to children in the hospital.
Jamie, who is now 8 years old, has collected and delivered more than 400 gift bags full of toys, crafts, drawing items and stuffed animals to hospitalized children in Indiana, Georgia, Ohio, Florida, and now El Paso.
For her efforts, Jamie was named a national finalist in the 2012 search for Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes, a national community service recognition program.
“It’s great,” said Theresa Melendez, who son Arlene Miller received a gift box from Jamie at El Paso Children’s Hospital. “I love that someone her age is doing good things for other kids. It’s adorable. El Paso has so many caring children.”
Huggable Heroes selected 15 young community service leaders with each receiving $10,000 — a $7,500 educational scholarship and $2,500 from the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation — to be donated to the charity of the Huggable Hero’s choice.
“She is heaven sent. It’s beautiful what she is doing,” said Marcos Ochoa, who was at El Paso Children’s Hospital with his 2-year-old daughter Bella Grace. “I’m just blessed that there are kids like that who are offering their services to sick kids. For such a young person like that to already give back to other children, that’s beautiful.”
So far, Jamie has raised more than $30,000 and has helped coordinate the delivery of a large supply of USB medical alert bracelets to the Epilepsy Foundation of Florida to help parents manage their children’s medical records.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jamie has written two books, “The Gorilla on the Swing,” which was self-published, and her new one, “I Have Epilepsy: It Doesn’t Have Me.”
“When we first started in 2010, she was using her allowance money for this project,” Judy Bacigalupo said. “We started gathering toys from Happy Meals and other things and we made our own gift bags.”
Looking to expand, they found out about a $5,000 grant from Pepsi, applied for it and won it.
Word of Angels4Epilepsy, which became incorporated in Georgia, spread and eventually expanded to Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.
In the past two years, Jamie received another $25,000 grant from Pepsi and a Kohl’s Cares scholarship.
“We just want a chance to help their experience be a little less scary,” Judy Bacigalupo said about delivering the gift baskets. “Both of my daughters have been in and out of hospitals. They both have conditions. Just from my own experiences, I know how hard it can be as a parent.”
The Bacigalupos have lived in El Paso for more than a year. They moved here because Judy Bacigalupo’s husband is stationed at Fort Bliss.
The foundation that began in Georgia grew to include other states.
“In Indiana, the person who volunteered had epilepsy and she wanted to give back to children there,” Judy Bacigalupo said. “Family members in Georgia and Ohio are helping out there and it’s in Florida because a person at the Epilepsy Foundation there contacted me because she just loved what Jamie was doing and wanted to help out.”
Jamie said bringing a smile to another child’s face makes it all worthwhile.
“I like that it makes them happy and it makes them feel good,” she said. “I know the first time I went to the hospital I was scared so. When they see the bear, it makes them forget about why they are there and that makes me happy.”
Victor R. Martinez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6128. Follow him on Twitter @vrmart.
Find out more
- Angels4Epilepsy:”A nonprofit organization that raises awareness for epilepsy and also brings comfort to children in the hospital — was created in 2010 by Judy Bacigalupo and her 8-year-old daughter Jamie, who was diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy, or BRE, in 2008.
- Information:”angels4epilepsy.org or facebook.com/Angels4Epilepsy.