Rare gifts

Gene Giraffe Project brings fluffy gifts to pediatrics office for Rare Disease Day

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Doug Passow, founder of the Gene Giraffe Project, holds one of the stuffed giraffes he donated to UnityPoint’s pediatrics office while Julie Bass, Courtney LittleJohn, Ashley Mundie and others return the animals to the bin. Children visiting the doctor on Wednesday got a free stuffed animal to mark the annual Rare Disease Day.

Kids visiting the doctors at UnityPoint Health’s pediatrics clinic got a rare treat Wednesday.

In honor of Rare Disease Day, the Gene Giraffe Project donated a bounty of stuffed bears to be given out to everyone visiting.

It’s the second year he’s done this, said Gene Giraffe President Doug Passow, of Clare.

“It’s just my way of giving back and to raise awareness for rare diseases,” Passow said. “I donate a lot to the pediatrics doctors’ offices out there. I donate a lot of toys and things like that to give to kids.”

Passow brought more than just bears — the doctors and nurses seemed pretty grateful for all the colorful owls, dogs and even giraffes.

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Dr. Richard Votta brings a stuffed giraffe to make baby Adaline Julius grin, with her mom Morgan Julius, a nurse at UnityPoint’s pediatrics office. The Gene Giraffe project donated a plethora of stuffed animals to the office for Rare Disease Day.

“I was giving out orange giraffes earlier,” said Dr. Richard Votta, a pediatrician. “The kids get a big kick out of it.”

“They get the biggest smile,” said Joline Klien, patient services representative. “They give the biggest hugs to the animal.”

Passow does it all in honor of his niece, Ava Passow, who died of a rare disease.

“This was for her,” said Barb Passow, Doug Passow’s mother. “We never would have been able to bring her back from Minnesota if it wasn’t for this office.”

The last day of February every year is a day to raise awareness for rare diseases, Doug Passow said. Diseases are considered rare in the U.S. if the disease infects fewer than 200,000 people. There are around 7,000 rare diseases and disorders, with more being discovered every day.

These diseases, being rare, often are underfunded, he said, but altogether rare diseases affect more people than cancer and AIDS combined.

Since it was founded, the Gene Giraffe Project has provided care packages and funding for families in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota. In addition to toys and hair bows, it also puts together care packages of “whatever the family needs,” Doug Passow said.

For more information, visit genegiraffe.org or Facebook.com/GeneGiraffeProject.