Ella Casano is not your typical 13-year-old girl.
The young teen from Fairfield, Connecticut, has to receive an IV transfusion every six to eight weeks, which mean she consistently faces what many kids hate: needles.
Casano was diagnosed with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura, or ITP, when she was 7 years old. This autoimmune disorder makes her body destroy its own platelets.
“Without her IV, her platelets are dangerously low,” Meghan Casano, Ella’s mother, said. “When her platelets are low, it is dangerous for her to do certain activities because of bleeding or injury.”
The experience of getting an IV treatment so often can be very stressful.
“One of the main things I noticed was it was very intimidating,” she said. “I wanted to hide it.” Hoping to address that fear, Casano came up with the idea of a “Medi Teddy,” a cover with a flat back and pouch that resembles a teddy bear. Her creative and useful invention is why TODAY is honoring Casano as a Groundbreaker for International Day of the Girl.
“From a child’s perspective, (a hospital can be a) very scary surrounding. Teddy bears are something children recognize and (the experience becomes) better for the child,” Dr. Rebecca Pillai Riddell, assistant vice president of research at York University, said.
Pillai Riddell does research on the ways that regular medical procedures can cause stress in children. She says the “Medi Teddy” will be able to reduce stress for children who are worried or fearful as they go through a procedure.
“When you reduce stress before a medical procedure, (you) can reduce stress during and after a medical procedure,” according to Pillai Riddell.
Casano is hoping that her “Medi Teddy” can help reduce stress for other children. Since introducing her idea this summer, she's earned enough donations to get 2,000 of the teddy covers manufactured. She plans to donate them to children in hospitals across the country.
“We've been getting a lot of positive feedback,” Casano said. “It makes me feel really good because I know I’m actually helping people with it.”
And, as of September, Casano and her mom recently got nonprofit status from the IRS. They hope this will help them expand "Medi Teddy" even further, and eventually start making other animals and accessories.
"We just want to be able to keep going and give Medi Teddies to all the kids who reached out to us," Casano said.
This article was originally published in June 2019. It was updated in September 2019.