Keeping busy helped Beatrice Ruberto stay positive during her son Enzo’s cancer treatment. In the sewing room above, Enzo helped her create nearly 100 ostomy bag covers for kids at Kaiser Permanente.
When Beatrice Ruberto and Steve Devine rushed their son Enzo to the hospital with severe stomach pains in August 2014, they had no idea what to expect. Hours later they received a shocking diagnosis: Their nine-year-old had cancer.
The family received more distressing news when Enzo came out of his biopsy surgery. The surgeon had given Enzo a temporary ileostomy, an opening in his belly for the discharge of waste. For the next four months, he would wear an ostomy bag that had to be emptied and cleaned every few hours.
“Just having a cancer diagnosis and having to be in the hospital and go through chemotherapy was bad enough,” recalled Beatrice Ruberto. “Having to deal with the ileostomy made it even more traumatic.”
Turning Embarrassment into Inspiration
Each time a doctor or nurse came to check on Enzo, they would examine the ostomy bag.
“It can be embarrassing for kids, and that’s how Enzo seemed to feel,” said Armida Lucas, RN, an ostomy nurse at Kaiser Permanente Oakland who helped care for him. “He would look at the bag and then turn away.”
“I didn’t like looking at the bag either,” said Enzo’s mom.
At Lucas’s suggestion, Ruberto visited some Internet sites that sold ostomy covers. But the ones she found were pricey and lacked the playful style she wanted. An accomplished seamstress, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
The first pouch Ruberto made was sewn from a pair of Enzo’s shorts, with friendly turtles in vibrant hues. Her next attempt was made from pajamas with a parrot print. Enzo was delighted with the results and felt less self-conscious during the daily ostomy inspections.
Helping Others While Helping Herself
As news about Enzo’s pouches spread throughout the Pediatrics ward, parents began approaching Ruberto to ask if they could buy pouches for their own children. But Ruberto refused their money, giving them the pouches as gifts instead.
“It was a simple thing I could do to help other kids going through the same thing as my son,” she said. “And having something to do during a hard time was helpful for me too.”
Once Enzo completed his cancer treatment, he and his brother Milo urged their mom to continue sewing the pouches.
“They said, ‘You need to make more of these and give them to all the other kids that need them,’ ” said Ruberto.
Inspired by their enthusiasm, she set a goal of making 100 pouches. And on November 19, 2015, she visited Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center to deliver the fruits of her labor.
“No two were exactly alike,” said Lucas. “She had made flowered pouches for the girls, rocket ships for the boys, denim for the teens. It was wonderful.”
There was another cause for celebration that day — the one-year anniversary of Enzo finishing chemotherapy.
“I felt like we were saying goodbye to the cancer,” said Ruberto, who reports that Enzo is now 10 and feeling happy and healthy.
If you know a pediatric patient at Kaiser Permanente who might like one of Enzo’s pouches, contact Jolynn Piazza. To make your own ostomy pouch, visit Ruberto’s website to find a pattern and sewing instructions.