Sarah Bonnell, at age 7, and Gabe Sipos, then age 1, had chemotherapy in the same clinic at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital every week for nearly a year. The two small children bonded, as they shared the same rare cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma.
“We knew the original Chemo Duck,” says Sarah’s mom, Diane.
Now 18, Sarah graduated from high school last month in the top ten in her class. She remembers those difficult days in the hospital with clarity. “I thought Gabe’s duck was amazing,” she says. Though her own stuffed toy, a special bear, comforted her during treatments, “I admired Gabe’s duck’s little port and his blood pressure cuffs,” she recalls. “I kind of understood what was happening in the hospital, but Gabe was so young, he had no comprehension about it all. His special duck helped make it seem less threatening, less scary.”
Sarah and her family wanted to share that comfort with other kids going through a similar experience. Together with Lu Sipos, creator of Gabe’s Chemo Duck program™, they created “Sarah’s Six.” Each month, the family funds six Chemo Ducks for delivery to children at three U.S. hospitals.
“We’ve always been inspired and humbled by Lu’s work,” says Diane. “We’ve watched in awe as she’s built and devoted her life to her foundation, and though we’ve made contributions from time to time, we decided we wanted to make a commitment to do more directed giving.
“It’s a way for us to pay forward everything that was done for Sarah and the people that impacted our lives along the way,” she says. “It’s not a lot—it’s a small contribution, but we’re so honored to be a part of this organization.”
Sarah chose Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to receive the first round of Sarah’s Six Chemo Ducks, in honor of the life-saving care she received there. Thereafter, a monthly contest sponsored by Gabe’s My Heart will invite supporters and fans to designate three hospitals to receive Sarah’s Six each month (plus all other single duck orders place that month).
“We believe God took a small piece of heaven and sat it down in the place where Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital stands,” says Diane. “When Gabe and his family and Sarah and our family were all there together, it was one small area on the fifth floor of the old children’s section. They took such good care of us. I could give you a story about each one of the doctors, nurses and staff.” Even when Sarah relapsed, she says, “they were always in our corner. Ten years later, they still are.”
“First Gabe and I had chemo together, and now to be able to team up with his organization and try to make a difference for kids, it’s amazing,” says Sarah. “It’s an honor.”
She’s grateful to be a part of helping kids better understand and gain some comfort during their treatment. “The Chemo Ducks help make cancer treatments a better experience,” she notes. “It’s awful either way, but Chemo Duck helps make it more kid-friendly, helps take a little bit of the edge off.”
“Being there from the beginning, seeing Gabe’s duck program grow and expand to 150 hospitals is awesome,” she says. “We’re honored to team with this really successful organization that reaches multiple kids.”
You can create your own personalized form of directed giving like the Bonnell family did with Sarah’s Six. To learn more, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.