Lower Bucks Times: Helping Hospital Heroes

By Samantha Bambino, The Times
Mary Pellegrino believes that her son Bennett wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for the nurses at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Born in June 2013 at only 25 weeks, and weighing in at 1 pound, 2 ounces, Bennett was considered a “micro preemie,” and has since undergone five surgeries, received countless blood transfusions and battled cancer.

The N/IICU nurses helped Pellegrino and her husband Greg through some of their darkest days. Now, the Warrington residents are helping frontline healthcare workers at CHOP get through some of theirs by providing much-needed masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Pellegrinos, through the BennettStrong Foundation, partnered with Victory 4 Vincent (a support network for oncology families founded by Delaware’s Natalie Nowroozi, whose 2-year-old is fighting a brain tumor) and Brave Gowns (which provides comfortable, colorful hospital gowns to children nationwide) in order to make this happen.

Through a link on Brave Gowns’ website, anyone can sponsor a mask, emblazoned with a BennettStrong logo, for $9. The washable, antimicrobial masks are shipped directly to the home of the Pellegrinos, who then safely deliver them to CHOP.

To date, the hospital has been gifted with more than 3,200 masks thanks to the sponsorship project as well as donations from local businesses, including the dance costume company A Wish Come True in Bristol.

“Our dining room is a mask delivery system right now,” Pellegrino said with a laugh. “Brave Gowns is mailing us boxes of 500 masks at a time.”

For Pellegrino, the outpouring of support for the initiative – a simple brainwave of two moms – has been unprecedented. And she’s ecstatic to help fight the personal protective equipment shortage.

“They’re so invested in their patients, and patients go from very well to very sick quickly, and now they’ve been exposed and coming home to their families, or worse yet, they can’t come home and they’re staying in hotels or apartments in the city because they’ve got little ones,” she said.

Pellegrino reflected on a conversation with a N/IICU nurse, to whom she said, “If this is one way that I can be there for you during some of your darkest days as a healthcare worker in a really scary environment, then I’m going to do that. If this means that CHOP doesn’t run out of supplies, that you have what you need to be safe and protect your family like you did for me, I want to do that.”

According to Pellegrino, CHOP has embraced her and Nowroozi’s desire to give back.

“We’ve created such a great relationship with them that when we reach out, they’re really wonderful about clearly outlining exactly what it is they need, and then being super supportive in creating that safe delivery method because they know that we have Bennett at home, and that we need to keep ourselves safe,” Pellegrino said. “They have been so extremely grateful. They are excited to partner with us. They are excited to see the response on social media and our ability to cheer on CHOP and all of this work they’re doing for kids.”

The BennettStrong Foundation, Victory 4 Vincent and Brave Gowns plan to continue the sponsorship program for the indefinite future. Additionally, individuals can purchase a mask (without the BennettStrong logo) through Brave Gowns for personal use.

“Brave Gowns is making an impact in a couple different states, and I think it’s cool to see how people are banning together to support hospital staff. These are our tiniest and most vulnerable patients at CHOP in the area. If we can do anything to help those healthcare workers, we’re going to do it,” Pellegrino said. “It’s a completely mobile giving program without you actually having to leave the house. You can help someone and make a huge impact by just clicking a couple buttons.”

When the pandemic is over, the Pellegrinos have plans to expand the efforts of the BennettStrong Foundation, which provides a Parent Survival Kit to every N/IICU family at CHOP. Each kit includes pens and a journal, which parents can utilize to jot down medications, information about confusing diagnoses and special milestones, such as when a breathing tube is removed.

Thanks to a $15,000 grant from Phillies Charities Inc., expansion plans include adding self-care items to the kits, having catered meals on the unit and building a family space.

“They can go and get rest without going too far from the bedside, and make it easy for nurses to find the parent if they need them,” Pellegrino said. “We’re excited about it. It’s growing. It’s provided the psycho-social support that we know they need. Psychologists are able to map out feelings with them and work on building some healthy coping skills. And it’s helping parents take this huge situation that they’re in and put it in story form almost. It makes it easier to digest and manage.”

The BennettStrong Foundation’s annual gala, which raises funds for the survival kits, is set for Feb. 27, 2021 at The Warrington. Visit bennettstrong.org/ for more information.

Sponsor a mask at bravegowns.com/products/sponsor-a-mask-for-chop.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com