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Part room makeover, part therapy for New Lenox girl fighting leukemia

Abby Bakotic (left) her younger sister Annreact as they see bedroom they share after it got makeover through Special Spaces

Abby Bakotic (left) and her younger sister, Anna, react as they see the bedroom they share after it got a makeover through Special Spaces Chicagoland Thursday, March 14, 2013. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 16, 2013 4:15PM



Anna Bakotic had not slept in her bedroom in nearly two years.

That was going to change Thursday night.

The 11-year-old New Lenox girl has been battling leukemia all that time. But she was the recipient of a complete room makeover Thursday from Special Spaces Chicagoland, a nonprofit that creates dream bedrooms for children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Anna, who is homeschooled, spends a lot of time in her house with her three siblings and parents. But starting now, her room figures to be her sanctuary. She walked into it, looked around and said, “It’s awesome.”

The room is decorated in pink, black and white — colors and bedding that she picked out. And it has a television. That’s important, because Anna — who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March 2011 — has a hard time sleeping while enduring chemotherapy and steroid treatments. She is scheduled to complete those treatments in July.

Ten volunteers worked feverishly from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to get the room how Anna wanted it. Volunteers from Special Spaces, The Home Depot in Naperville, and Crayons Gone Wild in New Lenox all pitched in with painting, loading, unloading, screwing, unscrewing and assembling — whatever it took to get Anna and her 14-year-old sister and roommate, Abigail, their new look.

Room makeovers can cost about $3,000 and take about eight weeks. But sponsors such as Home Depot in Naperville, 1-800-Got Junk? Chicagoland, and Helping Hands Therapy, of New Lenox, all made the one-day turnaround possible for Anna, who was nominated for the makeover.

“They could be nominated from anybody. It could be from the community, a life specialist — every hospital has a child life specialist,” said Kelly Knox, who founded the Chicagoland chapter of Special Spaces and serves as director and designer.

For Anna, who has endured multiple spinal taps and bone marrow aspirations, the wish came true by word of mouth.

“We did the first room with Waubonsie (Valley) High School, and it was a teacher of the district’s daughter” who had been treated at Hope Children’s Hospital, Knox said. “I said, ‘I have the strangest problem. I can’t get kids.’ And she said, ‘I have a slew of children who need rooms like this,’ and she named Anna.”

Knox’s work began.

“Once a child has been identified, we try to find local sponsors within that area and the community is actually pulling together and supporting the child,” she said.

Knox met with Anna, her mother Laura and sister Abigail.

“We came out and asked her if she was interested and she was super excited,” Knox said. “She (Anna) started right away sending me pictures of what she wanted. In fact, she picked out that bedding. She said, ‘I want this pink and white bedding.’

“These children aren’t going out to play, they’re not going to the high school dance. Anna is homeschooled,” she said. “She is here every day. The only place that she could really go and call her own is her bedroom. This is such a therapeutic spot for these children.

“I’m used to designing for looks. And I need to incorporate functionality, medicine and comfort.”

David Holtzman, a Home Depot volunteer, said, “We did a room before with Kelly and I helped picked out the paint for her, mixed up the paint and got her supplies. We have Team Depot, which is a community service part of Home Depot, and we do signups for it.

“Growing up in Southern Indiana, we have a higher cancer rate amongst some of the kids and so I did some projects down there for a couple of kids with some friends of mine that still live in Southern Indiana when I had the opportunity to do the room before. And this one, I went ahead and signed up because it something I was famiiar with and something I wanted to dedicate my time to.”

Anna said her favorite thing about her new room is “everything.”

“It’s better than what I thought it was going to look like,” she said.

Laura Bakotic, Anna’s mother, is thankful for good people and the generosity of all involved.

“It’s hard when you have a child who has cancer, and I’m in shock,” Bakotic said. “I’m just grateful. Anna really needed this space. She’s kind of been hanging out with me and Dad, and I think this is exactly what she needed.

“There are just so many good people. It is more than what I thought it would turn out, it’s gorgeous and beautiful. Through the rest of her treatment I think it’s going to be a really great space for her.”

And what is her sister Abigail’s take on their new room?

“It’s so fetch,” she said.



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