Girl With Autoimmune Disorder Creates Teddy Bears to Disguise IV Bags

The Connecticut child said IV treatments used to intimidate her.

From the beginning, that tall stainless steel pole with its huge IV drip filled Ella Casano with creeping dread.

She was in the second grade when she was first jabbed with a needle and tethered to a plastic bag full of blood platelets to treat the rare autoimmune disorder that caused bruises all over her body and left her susceptible to severe bleeding.

For as long as six hours, Ella watched warily as the bag, which seemed massive to her, slowly emptied. The kids around her also disliked that bag containing all that medicine that took seemingly forever to wind its way through their bodies.

She thought on that fear for awhile. What could ease it, she wondered. What would make her feel less anxious?

She came up with the name first: Medi Teddy. Then she came up with the bear — a snuggly, smiling animal with a back pouch that fit over an IV bag and made it disappear.

"The intimidating thing to me ... was the big bag of medicine," Ella, who is now 12, told "I just wanted to come up with a friendly way to hide it."

Ella lives with immune thrombocytopenic purpura, a bleeding disorder in which her immune system destroys platelets, which are needed to clot blood and create scabs. Every six to eight weeks she must dedicate a day to sitting in the hospital for five to six hours as platelets are transfused into her body.

Her condition is chronic, meaning she will undergo those transfusions for the rest of her life. 

She's been working on her Medi Teddy creation for a while now. For her first prototype, "I just took a stuffed animal i had in the house and I cut out the back," she said. She entered it in her fifth-grade invention convention, and won. For the next two school years, she worked on developing a business plan.

Eventually, she and her family decided on forming a nonprofit organization that would solicit donations for manufacturing the bears, which would then be given to kids undergoing transfusion and IV treatments.

Last week, the Casanos started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money. They have found a company that will create 500 bears at a cost of $5,000. But much to their surprise, the Casanos have received more than $21,000 — four times the amount they expected to raise.

And demand for the bears has floored them. "We weren't expecting this global demand in the first week," said Ella's mom, Meg. "We figured we would driving Medi Teddys in the back of my car, knocking on doors."

Now, the Casanos are regrouping. "We are working really hard with some really smart people ... to figure out how to get as many as possible to as many people as possible," Meg said.

Requests for Medi Teddys have poured in from hospitals, organizations, adults, children and even pet owners.

The family is also asking for patience as they try to figure out what to do with largesse they never expected. 

"It's amazing," Meg said.

Ella's affliction robs her childhood of things other kids take for granted. She can't ride a bike, play competitive sports, or even roller skate. The chance of injury is too great. On a recent field trip to an amusement park with her school orchestra, Ella couldn't ride any of the attractions because her platelet count was too low.

"She gets bruises all over her arms and legs when her platelets are really low ... so there's a couple of weeks before she gets her infusion where her platelets are very low and she really just has to keep two feet on the ground."

Meg, a former nurse, said she had to drag 7-year-old Ella to three different pediatricians before she found a doctor who would listen to her. The last one checked the girl's platelets, "and that's when we found out," Meg said.

Ella, who has three younger sisters, said she has become inured to her limitations. Mostly.

"It doesn't really affect me as much anymore because I've kind of gotten used to it ... But I do feel like I'm missing out a little bit," she said.