DSCC Toddler’s Birthday Celebration Benefits Hospital Patients

January 27th, 2023

Eloise is wearing a light grey, long-sleeve fleece top and a cone-shipped birthday hat. The hat is made of light orange paper and that is decorated with a peace sign, flowers, a smiley face and a pom-pom on top. Her wheelchair has bright pink support pads that really pop in this picture.

To celebrate Eloise turning 3, her family threw a “groovy” birthday party to provide comfort and treats for patients and their families at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois

Birthdays are major milestones in every child’s life. For families of children with rare diseases, they’re especially precious.  

Eloise was diagnosed with alobar holoprosencephaly when her mom, Rachel, was 20 weeks pregnant. This congenital condition causes a developing baby’s brain to not properly separate into the right and left hemispheres (halves).

“There are several types of holoprosencephaly and alobar is the most severe. We had no idea if she would be born alive or how long she would live,” Rachel said. “She spent 20 days in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) before going home on hospice just before COVID-19 hit.”

Her first birthday didn’t seem possible, let alone future birthdays. But Eloise defied the odds. The Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC) participant moved from hospice to palliative care. Eloise is now a feisty 3-year-old who brings joy to everyone she meets, Rachel said.

To celebrate Eloise turning 3 in November, her family planned a special birthday party to benefit the patients and their families at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois. The party, dubbed “Eloise Fest – Let’s Get Groovy,” provided plenty of treats and gifts from local businesses. The celebration also donated new sound machines to create a more calming setting for families.  

“The party was a way to give back and celebrate something we never dreamed possible,” Rachel said.

Eloise has spent time in nearly every pediatric unit of OSF Children’s Hospital. Rachel and her husband, Zach, got the idea for Eloise Fest when they noticed some of the hospital rooms didn’t have sound machines. 

“Eloise’s first and second birthdays we raised money for the Carter Centers for Brain Research in Holoprosencephaly and Related Brain Malformations. This year we wanted to do something more tangible,” Rachel said.

“It may seem like a small thing but hearing the beeps and monitors all the time can be really stressful for families and patients. A sound machine helps provide calm by drowning out the medical stuff. During our stays, we usually set our machine on the ocean setting and it helps provide a sense of calm that’s hard to come by in a hospital. We wanted to help other families have that same sense of calm.”

Rachel and Zach worked with the hospital to find out how many sound machines each department needed. The couple then posted a wish list for their family and friends to buy 92 sound machines and related supplies. They fulfilled the wish list within three days.

“It was so touching to see how many people are impacted by Eloise’s story and are there supporting and loving her,” Rachel said.

Eloise’s “groovy” themed party also included her favorite music playlist and a VW bus photo station that traveled from floor to floor.  Local businesses also donated an array of food and non-food goodies for patients and staff.

“This has been three years we didn’t know that we would get,” Rachel said. “I’m grateful for the team that we have surrounding us that includes doctors who understand and all the support our friends, family and DSCC provides. How else would we have gotten here?”

You can see more photos from Eloise Fest and the list of local business donors on OSF Children’s Hospital’s Facebook page.

Read more about Eloise’s powerful journey on our Family Stories page.

DSCC Participant’s ‘Baby Bucket List’ Spreads Awareness and Joy

February 28th, 2022

Elijah is in his stroller smiling

Elijah’s Baby Bucket List is a social media movement raising awareness about lissencephaly while helping 4-year-old Elijah live life to the fullest

Elijah is quite the celebrity and not just among his nine older siblings.

The 4-year-old was born with a rare, terminal genetic condition called lissencephaly.

The devastating diagnosis led his family to create a bucket list to fill Elijah’s lifetime with as much happiness and adventure as possible.

“Elijah’s Baby Bucket List” is now a popular social media movement dedicated to raising awareness about lissencephaly. It also provides opportunities for Elijah to live life to the fullest while spreading joy and making new friends and memories.  

Elijah’s story has appeared on TV, in print and online. He also has thousands of followers from around the globe on platforms including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok. His followers read about his latest experiences and enjoy videos of his infectious laughter and smile.

“He’s always happy, always laughing. It’s hard to stay sad when he’s around,” said his mother, Amy Tarpein. “He is unconditional love and the embodiment of pure joy.”

“Choose joy”

Elijah with his mother, Amy
Amy Tarpein holds her son Elijah, who was born with a rare genetic condition called lissencephaly.

Elijah, a participant with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children (DSCC), was born deaf. Approximately two months later, he was diagnosed with lissencephaly.

Lissencephaly occurs when the folds and grooves of the brain do not develop correctly. 

“It was devastating. The doctors said he wouldn’t live beyond the age of 2,” Amy recalled. “We were packed and ready to spend time at my sister’s. Instead, I loaded up the kids, left the hospital and we drove to Florida to see the ocean.”

During that trip, the idea for Elijah’s Baby Bucket List was born.

 “It can all be really hard, but we decided that we could either sit around and feel sorry about things or choose to give Elijah the best, God-filled life possible while he’s here. We decided to choose joy, be grateful, encourage others and hope,” Amy said.

Through “Elijah’s Baby Bucket List”, the family shares inspirational messages, videos and updates as they work through experiences on Elijah’s bucket list.

“We’ve shared about the first time he heard his sister sing, visits to the hospital and doctors, and our adventures to the Morton Arboretum, Beyond Van Gogh Exhibit, St. Louis Aquarium, hiking in the mountains, observing stars with a NASA scientist, picking pumpkins, playing in the leaves and a private screening of ‘Clifford the Big Red Dog,’” Amy said.

 “The focus is on Elijah doing or watching the things on the list and making as many memories and friends as possible!”

Other recent highlights include the city of Quincy declaring Sept. 8 as Lissencephaly Awareness Day and lighting the Bayview Bridge purple in his honor.  The Quincy Herald-Whig newspaper covered the special honor and Elijah’s story last fall.

“Our town came together to spread awareness and advocate for kids who are differently-abled. They lit up the bridge purple for Elijah, ” Amy said.  “I can’t express the emotion that overwhelmed me when we were also given a beautiful photo of the purple bridge taken by a local artist. The community support for my family has been amazing.”

“Be a light”

Elijah and his siblings share some snuggle time together on the couch
Elijah enjoys cuddle time with four of his older siblings at home.

Amy says her family loves Elijah fiercely. He has five grown siblings and four at home — Avayha, Isaiah, Kaylynn and Mackenzie – who dote on him.

They enjoy spending time together reading, studying, looking at and doing art, listening to music and cuddling.

“Avayha practices violin with him. She tells him the strings and what she’s playing. He loves music,” said Amy. “When we go to museums, she will read all of the descriptions and tell him about the exhibits and artwork.”

Elijah’s lessons include learning sign language and using his computer with an eye gaze device.

“He’s doing stuff they said he would never do,” Amy said. “He’s gotten really good at matching his letters, numbers, colors and shapes. He signs mom, dad, call, dog, no and will also sign ‘all done’ when he doesn’t want to get into his AFOs, the orthotics braces, because they are uncomfortable.”

Elijah’s sister Avayha wants to take him to Paris to drink lemonade and see the museums. She set up a lemonade stand to fund the trip, but the COVID-19 pandemic soon followed.

“Avayha asked if she could learn web design, so she could build up her own site,” Amy said proudly. “At 9-years-old, she studied and set everything up on her own. She’s determined to take him.”

Avayha’s website is Lemonade in Paris.

Amy calls caring for Elijah life-changing in the best possible ways.

“If someone had told me that five years ago, I would not have believed it. This was not the plan, but I love my life,” she said.

More to Explore

Elijah enjoys another hike with his family
Elijah with his mom, Amy, and four of his older siblings.

DSCC has worked with Elijah’s family since 2019. As Elijah continues to check off items from his baby bucket list, DSCC continues to help support his family’s journey.  

“DSCC collaborates with a wide range of agencies,” said Elijah’s Care Coordinator Kathy Thomas. “We’re here to listen and help families with children with complex health needs navigate insurance, health care and other resources.”  

DSCC’s Care Coordinators work countless hours helping families set and achieve their child’s goals based on their family’s unique needs.

Amy continues to plan new adventures for Elijah, stay positive and share the positivity with others.

“Elijah continues to defy the odds,” she said.

“Some things can’t be fixed, only carried! Life is full of things you can’t fix, no matter how well-intentioned you are. God, your higher power or whatever you believe in, always sends someone. I can’t explain half the stuff that happens in our lives, but we are braver together. This was not my plan, but I am truly blessed to be his momma.”

To learn more about Elijah and lissencephaly, follow Elijah’s Baby Bucket List on Facebook or visit elijahsbabybucketlist.com.

Town Throws Special Birthday Parade for DSCC Participant

November 27th, 2019

Nash Stineman smiles while surrounded by his mom, dad and older brother.

The story of 3-year-old Nash Stineman’s huge birthday parade goes viral as his family seeks treatment for his rare, terminal disease.

Nash Stineman has a rare condition called Spinal Muscular Atrophy with Respiratory Distress or SMARD.

It is so rare, Nash is the only person in Illinois ever diagnosed with this disease, his family says. There are only 60 children living with this disease worldwide.

SMARD causes progressive muscle weakness and respiratory failure, often leading to death before age 2. There is no known treatment or cure.

When his mom Brittany heard her baby boy’s diagnosis, she sprung into fight mode.

“I’m not going to accept that my child is going to die without doing everything in my power. I just can’t accept that,” she recalled.

Nash Stieman smiles as he sits in his wheelchair and is hooked up to an IV.
Nash Stineman recently turned 3, a huge milestone for his life with a rare, terminal disease.

Brittany created a non-profit called Smash SMARD to raise awareness and funds for research. She’s tracked down researchers and raised over $2 million to develop gene therapy for SMARD patients.

So when Nash’s third birthday approached, the family was ready to celebrate.

“It’s been a really rough road, but we have had so much community support. Since Nash is immunocompromised, he hasn’t been able to meet most of the people who have relentlessly supported him,” Brittany said. “One of my best friends said, ‘Nash turning 3 is such a big deal, and you have been working so hard. Let’s do something for Nash and bring the party to him.’ So that is what we did, and we were able to thank so many of the people that have continued to support our family this whole way through.”

Brittany initially thought a group of a dozen or so friends could drive by their house in a small parade so Nash could watch and wave. Her friends reached out on social media to see if anyone had a truck or special vehicle that could participate.

The response was overwhelming.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, the day before Nash’s actual birthday, more than 100 vehicles, including village fire engines, school buses, police vehicles, Jeeps and specialty trucks, paraded in front of the Stinemans’ home.

Nash’s 5-year-old brother, Blake, even served as the grand marshal leading the pack.

Nash's older brother, Blake, pretends to check Nash with a stethoscope.
Nash and his older brother, Blake, play together with a stethoscope.

The procession took more than an hour as Nash watched with a huge smile on his face.

“It was the most special thing that ever happened to us, even more special than our wedding day,” Brittany said. “For the first few days, we couldn’t even form a sentence about how special it was.”

The heartwarming story was covered by CBS Chicago. It quickly went viral with other media outlets picking up the story, including CBS News and CNN. Brittany also appeared on Anderson Cooper’s daily live news show, Full Circle.

“It was unbelievable,” Brittany said. “We have an amazing community. I knew people would want to take part, but I did not realize just how big it would be.”

Videographers and photographers even donated their services to capture the special celebration.

“Now, we want to capitalize on the attention for our fundraising,” Brittany said.

The Stineman family hopes those who see Nash’s story will consider donating $5 to their non-profit, Smash SMARD, at www.smashsmard.org. Smash SMARD is currently working to fund gene therapy research and a clinical trial for six to 12 patients in the year 2020.

“Without this treatment, Nash will not live,” Brittany said. “This is what we’re asking for. If everyone donates $5, we are hopeful that for Nash’s 4th birthday, we will be celebrating with gene therapy.”

Nash is currently enrolled with the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Division of Specialized Care for Children. He requires in-home nursing and is a participant in the Home Care Program.

Brittany and Nash Stineman share a laugh as Nash wears his BiPAP mask.

“(DSCC) has and continues to make being at home so much more manageable and has fought with us and for us. We really genuinely appreciate it,” Brittany said.

At birth, Nash appeared to be a typically developing baby. However, within the first few months of his life, he stopped growing and was considered “failure to thrive.” He soon was hospitalized, going into cardiac arrest and a coma, spending seven months in the hospital.

While his diagnosis at 11 months of age was difficult, Brittany said it at least provided answers. She has since devoted her life to help find an effective treatment for Nash and other children like him.

She describes Nash’s third birthday as an emotional and bittersweet milestone.

“It recently hit me that my child is not going to have the same opportunities as others and that has been pretty challenging and overwhelming. But at the same time, I wouldn’t choose this for my family but now I would never change it. I don’t want to think about my life with him not in it,” she said.

“For how much Nash has been through, he truly is beyond inspirational. He lives his life every day with a huge smile on his face, and I am so hopeful for what the next year has in store.”

For more news coverage on Nash’s birthday celebration and his condition, visit:

For more information about SMARD and the Stineman family’s fundraising efforts, visit www.smashsmard.org.