Shelburne woman is a friend, indeed

SHELBURNE Entering Fletcher Allen Health Care, Kristen Owens felt she was on a mission. With her 135-pound Newfoundland therapy dog, Jake, by her side, Owens knew her destination: the pediatric floor at the Burlington hospital. "Jake was due to have an operation because he had a torn knee ligament," said Owens, an attractive blond with three children. "I love bringing him to the hospital, and he loves the kids." After informing hospital officials about the dog's surgery, noting he wouldn't be able to visit the children for an extended period of time, Owens took Jake for one last visit, explaining felt literally drawn to the patients. There was a child who had just moved from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit to the children's wing. The child, hospital officials said, needed to visit with a dog, Owens said. "I got Jake up on the bed, he needed help," Owens recalled. "He climbed into the bed with the child. I guess I'm known as, 'The girl with the dog.'" The visit didn't end there. For some reason, Owens felt drawn to another room. Jake, she said, headed for a small boy in a bed. This time, the dog didn't need any help settling onto the blankets. To Owens, the scene was surreal. Because the boy had no hair, she assumed he was battling cancer. "Jake put his head into the boy's lap," Owens said. "I was worried, but he said, 'That'sok, dogs like me.'" There were two beds in the room, one for Dustin Cobb, the patient, and the other held beading supplies. Dustin made bracelets to raise funds for his cancer treatment. Diagnosed with Neuroblastoma-the most common form of cancer afflicting infants and young children-patients have a 30 percent survival rate on diagnosis. Dustin sold the beaded jewelry for $5 a piece. Owens eventually bought 20 of the items, giving them to friends. But the encounter didn't end there. Because there is little government funding for research for the disease, it is up to patients and families to raise money for treatment. Owens and the Cobb family, who hail from Atlanta, exchanged phone numbers. "We really formed an incredible relationship. He became part of our family," Owens said. Dustin traveled to Burlington to participate in a drug trial conducted by Dr. Giselle Sholler, a cancer researcher based at Fletcher Allen and the University of Vermont. "She's doing great things," Owens said. When Dustin took a turn for the worse this summer, Owens was on a trip to New York. After receiving word of the boy's deteriorating condition, Owens hurried home. She was able to be with him before he died, she said. Dustin's fight and the financial battle accompanying it prompted Owens to think about a way to help. Armed with a marketing and advertising background, Owens runs her own company, Generation S.O.S. Operational for the last two and a half years, the Shelburne organization looks for creative ways to help the community. "I was thinking, 'what could we do to help?" she said. So, Owens designed a T-shirt embossed with the phrase, "Never Give Up." Selling for $10 a piece, the items come in sizes ranging from 2-T up through XL for adults. Right now, the shirts are available at the Shelburne Supermarket. Owens is also trying to find wider distribution for the apparel. While running a company and raising a family wasn't enough, Owens, who is a typical suburban housewife, is in the final stages of setting up a foundation dedicated to helping research for pediatric cancers. All proceeds from The Never Give Up Foundation would go the Stoller's work in Burlington. Already, the sale of 500 T-shirts has raised $10,000 for the program. Additionally, she has designed and marketed a yellow dog collar, similar in appearance to Lance Armstrong's Live Strong bracelets. The collars are sold at Petfood Warehouse on Williston Road in South Burlington. To find out more about Owens' projects, or to place on order, contact her at krisowens5@comcast.net.

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