GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) — Seven-year-old Zach Libow excitedly ran up and down the stairs at his Crescent Road home on a recent Saturday, checking on the progress of his new bedroom.
Right before his very eyes, the room was being transformed into an octopus' garden in the sea.
"It's like a party in there," he told his mother, after one trip upstairs.
Zach, who is suffering from leukemia, was getting a dream room makeover by local volunteers from Art from the Heart, a program run by the Wilton-based Circle of Care, which serves families of children who have cancer. The volunteers included area mothers and students from Greenwich High School.
Karen Morgenbesser, program director, said she got Zach's name from Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was receiving treatment, after asking for the names of young patients who'd like their room remodeled. She said he had a "basic boy's room," but wanted something a little older.
"We do a fantasy room and Zach wanted to be under the water," she added.
Morgenbesser said they prepped the room on a Friday at the end of March with plans to work straight through the weekend until the renovations were complete. It also was refurbished with a platform bed, dresser, beanbag chair and carpet.
Elise Libow, Zach's mother, said he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2013. She said there weren't many signs of the disease, except some small bruises along his arms.
Following a visit to the doctor's office, they were sent to Greenwich Hospital, where blood tests were done and the results revealed cancer.
"It all happened in one day," Zach said bravely. "I got four finger pricks and another finger prick."
Currently between treatments, Zach has about 10 more weeks of chemotherapy, then he'll have 2 ½ years of maintenance. His mother said he has a good prognosis and they expect a full recovery.
"It's been the most difficult time we've ever been through," Libow said. "But what we realized is how many great organizations are out there, like Circle of Care."
Libow said the hospital has been great, along with members of the community who brought meals to the house. She said they're making a bad situation better.
Because he's not well enough to go to school, Zach's second-grade class at the Riverside School is leaving a giant stuffed monkey in his chair until he gets back. The monkey wears a backpack all day and his homework is placed inside. Friends and family retrieve the backpack at the end of the school day so Zach can keep up with his schoolwork, and he returns his work in the backpack when it goes back to the monkey in the morning.
"Yale has this program and it's amazing — Monkey In My Chair," Libow said. The program is run through Yale by a national nonprofit that provides the monkeys to schools that have students who have cancer, to help keep the children connected to their friends at school.
Zach's "under the sea"-themed room was painted ocean blue, with several giant sea creatures around the walls and on the ceiling. Zach quickly named each one, including an octopus, eel, shark, sting-ray and killer whale on the walls and two hammerhead sharks on the ceiling. The focal point is the giant orange octopus, whose tentacles will go from the back wall onto a bookcase.
"He basically told us what he liked," Morgenbesser said. "We wanted them realistic, not too young."
Ben Kraninger, a freshman at Greenwich High School, said this was his second project with the organization. "I like to volunteer and help kids because we're so privileged," he said. "It just feels right."
Erin White, a senior at GHS, said she started volunteering with the organization her freshman year and has done about 10 rooms, including a basement with a dragon on the wall and a doctor's office with an octopus.
"It's been great," she said. "Each room is different and unique."
Art from the Heart designs bedrooms and playrooms for pediatric cancer patients throughout southern Connecticut and northern Westchester County. Since starting in 2005, they've completed more than 50 dream rooms for young patients. Aside from Yale, the names of candidates are also received from Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford and Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Westchester County.
Circle of Care, based in Wilton, was founded 10 years ago by a small group of families whose children have battled and survived cancer. They're dedicated to supporting newly diagnosed families from the time of diagnosis to recovery. In the past decade, they've provided more than 1,500 care packages and $465,000 in financial assistance to 1,600 families affected by cancer.
Information from: Greenwich Time, http://www.greenwichtime.com