Holiday Tree Festival lights up John S. Knight Center

Written by: Heather Beyer

The Akron Children’s Holiday Tree festival holds a special significance to everyone who makes it a part of their holiday traditions.

Since its inception in 1982, volunteers for the festival have raised more than $3 million dollars to benefit the patients and families at Akron Children’s Hospital.

This year’s event featured 156 full-size Christmas trees decorated in a variety of themes; many miniature trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations were also on display.

Area residents, businesses and community groups donated all items featured in the festival.

All proceeds from the sale of the trees and other holiday decorations will benefit medical research, education and patient-care programs at Children’s.

The 2012 Holiday Tree Festival opened to the public on Nov. 17 and ran through Nov. 25.

“The turnout was a little slow the first weekend because it was so sunny and nice out,” said Mary Leuca of Akron, chairwoman of this year’s tree festival.

However, this past weekend was a different story.

“People were literally standing out in the cold waiting to get in,” Leuca said. “We were mobbed.”

Police officers were stationed at the bottom and top of the escalators to direct the crowd of people.

“People have just fallen in love with the trees,” Leuca said. “Kids love it. Their eyes are huge when they first see the trees with all the lights and they just grin and start giggling.”

One of the trees highlighted at the event was “The Sofia” tree. The tree was created in memory of Sofia Isabella Dente and was adorned in elegant red roses with a baby blanket, and had the touching children’s book “Guess How Much I Love You” by Sam McBratney nestled underneath.

According to her memorial website, Sofia was born at 12:15 a.m. on Jan. 26, 2011 at Akron General Medical Center. Prior to delivery, she compressed her umbilical cord and did not receive sufficient oxygen for a period of time.

Upon delivery, Sofia had a severe injury to her brain, leaving her in a vegetative state and she had to be taken to the NICU at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Sofia spent the first 72 hours of her life undergoing cold cap treatments to prevent any further injury to her brain.

According to her memorial website, the cold cap would keep her brain in a hypothermic state while the rest of her body was at normal body temperature. Sofia was also placed on a ventilator because she was unable to breathe on her own.

Her parents never left her side during her hospital stay and often would be present nearly 20 hours a day with their daughter. There was no doubt that Sofia could hear her parents speak and read to her. Her vitals responded to their voices. Her parents would read to her all day long, play her music and pray for the other babies in the NICU.

Over the next few weeks, the Dente family had some difficult decisions to make, none that any parent should have to face.

The Dentes wanted to bring Sofia home to her own nursery.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day, Sofia was able to go home with her family.

Her homecoming was bittersweet because her family knew what was to follow, but they were relieved that Sofia was home.

The Dente’s took family photos of Sofia in her crib, bouncer, swing and rocking horse.

Sofia was taken off her ventilator for the final time at 4:30 p.m.

Her parents took turns rocking her in her nursery and she took her last breath snuggled in her parents arms at 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 15. “It’s a touching story,” said Sandy Mueller, festival attendee. “I can see how the love of a child can help people reconnect their faith and learn to love others too.”

Sofia’s story is just one of the many stories at Akron Children’s Hospital. The Holiday Tree festival provides an opportunity for the community to give their support to the hospital’s mission of providing family-centered care and to fund research programs to care for all aspects of a child’s well-being.

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