It started with a two-year-old’s 17-day stay in the hospital. Kirby Cole, daughter of entrepreneur Lakesha Cole, had spiked a 103-degree fever at daycare. After two trips to the ER and a medivac to a nearby PICU, the Cole family eventually received a diagnosis far different from the first attributing her fever to an ear infection. The toddler has Renal Tubular Acidosis and Diabetes Insipidus.
Renal Tubular Acidosis means that Kirby’s kidneys don’t properly acidify her urine, so her body accumulates the acid. Diabetes Insipidus is an imbalance of water in the body, which leads to great thirst and expulsion of urine. The two diagnoses mean a lot of changes for the tiny milkid–some that are seemingly unexpected. “Kirby lost hearing in both ears and her speech regressed,” Cole, a Marine spouse and 2014 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year recipient, says.
Kirby is now out of the hospital, but she’ll spend a lot of time at the doctor, with therapists, and under the watchful eye of her parents. “Our new normal now includes routine weekly doctor visits 160 miles away, speech therapy, multiple feedings a day, and tons of meds via her g-tube,” says Cole.
Those 17 days made an impression on Kirby and her parents that they won’t soon forget. Before her health crisis, Kirby loved to play dress-up with her mom with “headbands or turbans and pink lipstick for everyone,” Cole says. “She won’t leave home without something decorative on her head.” That didn’t change–even when Kirby was heavily sedated for the pain she was experiencing. “We still applied my makeup and picked out her hair accessories for the day because it was familiar to her in an unfamiliar place. Some days we would change accessories two to three times just because it made her smile.”
Cole, the owner of children’s boutique She Swank Too, realized that if Kirby enjoyed this ritual, other children dealing with health issues might, too. She dreamed up the Kirby Project, an initiative through her business that “aims to bring comfort, compassion, and a smile” to children battling life-threatening illnesses.
For every girl’s turban or boy’s beanie bought through She Swank Too, one is donated to children’s hospitals across the nation. And Cole is dreaming big: Within the next year, she wants to donate to “every single children’s hospital in the US.”
Cole hopes the community will rally to support these fragile children. “The future of the Kirby Project rests solely on our community,” she says. “It’s amazing how something as simple as a turban can change a sick child’s demeanor.”
For those interested in helping, Cole mentioned three ways to participate in the Kirby Project. By purchasing a beanie or turban, you’ll automatically be donating another to a sick child. Not in need of a child’s accessory? The Kirby Project also takes donations (or your can donate 10 percent of your checkout through She Swank Too), with 100 percent going “back to help children battle life-threatening illnesses.” Finally, you can help distribute the headwear to your local children’s hospital by “joining the band.” For more information or to suggest a hospital for donations, contact [email protected]
By J.G. Noll