Kids with kidney ailments make their own teddy bears at annual charity event

Deanna Anderson, 4, builds a stuffed bear during the 11th annual Build-A-Bear workshop event at Pembroke Mall in Pembroke Pines on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (Jennifer Lett / Sun Sentinel)

Chase Cooper clutched the stuffed bear he named Felix, in honor of the doctor who helped him recover when he received a new kidney about eight years ago.

Cooper, 13, was one of dozens of children who got to make a stuffed animal at the nonprofit Kids Needing Kidneys’ annual charity event Sunday at Build-A-Bear Workshop in Pembroke Pines.

Kids Needing Kidneys was started nearly a decade ago by Laura Kowalczyk, a Boynton Beach resident who had a kidney transplant in 1995 due to renal failure. Every year, the organization invites children who are either on dialysis, need a transplant or have received a transplant to Build-a-Bear to make a stuffed animal for free.

Kids Needing Kidneys raised about $8,000 this year for about 98 kids, up from the six children and $800 it started with when it first began.

Kowalczyk was inspired by a kid named Dyman Hicks, who was six years old when she and Kowalczyk met while getting their blood drawn at a hospital.

Hicks needed a kidney transplant after her body had rejected a previous one, and Kowalczky thought of taking her to build a stuffed animal.

“But I thought if I raised more money, maybe I can take all kids on dialysis to Build-A-Bear,” Kowalczky recalled. “These kids look forward to it every year and I can’t stop.”

Hicks received a new transplant in 2014. She’s turning 18 soon and usually helps the children build their bears each year.

Getting a new bear can help the children get their mind off their illnesses for a day with their families, Hicks said.

“It takes a lot on you at a young age,” Hicks said.

Not all of the children registered for the event were physically or financially able to make it out to Pembroke Pines, Kowalczky said. She and her team of about three people this week will deliver about 60 bears to Jackson Memorial Hospital, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital.

Cooper’s mother Jennifer said it has helped to meet some of the families who have come out to the event in the past and are going through similar situations.

“It was nice back then for me to meet parents whose kids were doing really well and I was like ‘Oh gosh, it is going to get better,’ ” she said. “And now I get to be that parent to say ‘Don’t worry, your kid is going to get that transplant and get better.’ ”

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