April 24th, 2018

Value of STARS will never be forgotten for city family

By Schnarr, J.W. on January 12, 2018.

Three-year-old Leo, who was a STARS patient as an infant, shares a laugh with STARS base director Jeff Morris as his mom, Mandy DeCecco-Kolebaba, and brothers Jack and Jude attend the STARS Lottery launch Thursday at the Lethbridge show home. Herald photo by Ian Martens @IMartensHerald

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald


The 25th STARS Lottery launch took place Thursday.

STARS helped more than 1,500 people in Alberta last year, and flew 74 missions to Lethbridge alone. On average, STARS flies five missions per day in Alberta.

In 2015, one of those missions was an 11-week old boy named Leo.

Leo was ill and, after visiting a doctor several times, his parents took him to the emergency room at the Chinook Regional Hospital.

Doctors checked the boy and determined he likely had pneumonia. His oxygen levels were low, so Leo was admitted for treatment.

But things weren’t getting better.

“About eight hours later, that little bit of pneumonia meant that he was struggling to breathe in my arms,” said his mother, Mandy DeCecco-Kolebaba.

DeCecco-Kolebaba summoned emergency staff but they were unable to stabilize the child. At that point, a decision was made to transfer him to Calgary.

“I was told an ambulance was coming to take him to Calgary,” she said. “I was so devastated. Then, 10 minutes later, they said an airplane is coming to take him to Calgary, and I was devastated again.

“Then it was, ‘You’d better say goodbye, STARS is coming to take him. We just cannot figure out what’s going on with him.'”

Leo was rushed down the halls of the hospital to the ICU, and it was pure chaos. Doctors could not find anything small enough to intubate him, so they had to use a bigger tube than necessary. They couldn’t figure out how to stabilize his heart rate.

“It was pure panic,” said DeCecco-Kolebaba.

“I thought we were saying goodbye to our little boy.

“I remember, even though he was only 11 weeks old, him staring at me with such fear in his eyes as they were putting him under. And then they told us to say goodbye to him.”

And then STARS walked down the hall like superheroes.

“They were in their flight gear, and my husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘He’s going to make it.’

“He is going to make it because STARS is here.”

Leo was flown to Calgary while his parents drove up. The medics supplied them with regular updates until the family was reunited.

Leo was able to recover, and STARS became the most important charity in the lives of his family.

“As a family, we’ve made it our mission to make STARS our charity of choice,” said DeCecco-Kolebaba.

Another son has held STARS fundraisers on his birthday for the past two years.

“STARS has made such an impact in our life,” she said.

“I still get chills every time I hear that helicopter over our house because I know they are saving someone else’s life.”

“It’s what we do,” said Jeff Morris, STARS Base Director for Calgary.

“Fighting for peoples’ lives. Fighting to remain sustainable. Relying on communities. Supporting rural health care. Helping with hospital transports. Working with our allies in medical services.”

“The most important thing is the health of the citizens of Lethbridge and those who live in southern Alberta who benefit from STARS,” said Mayor Chris Spearman. “I think it’s very important that the community supports this. We don’t know who it could be tomorrow. It could be one of us or a member of our family.”

This year’s STARS lottery offers ticket holders a chance at 3,034 prizes valued at $4.7 million. The Lucky Stars 50/50 provides an opportunity to win up to $1.75 million.

Three grand prize show homes, a $500,000 dream fund, a $350,000 early bird prize, four high-end vehicles or their cash value, 10 vacation packages, and two STARS flights highlight this year’s prizes. The three homes, located in Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge, have a total value of more than $2.8 million.

The Lethbridge show home is located at 119 Canyon Estates Way W. It is named The Jenna Michele, after the daughter of Van Arbour Homes builders Val and Mike Lowen. Jenna Michele passed away in 1991.

“In 1991, Mike and I found ourselves in a situation where we needed emergent care for our daughter,” Val said.

“Sadly enough, that didn’t happen for us. So we feel especially passionate for this product. We would like to dedicated this home to our daughter, Jenna Michele.”

The home is valued at $892,500.

For ticket information, visit starslotteryalberta.ca or call 1-888-880-0992.

Follow @JWSchnarrHerald on Twitter

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