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North Hills community helps create 'healing place' for New Zealand child

| Thursday, July 19, 2007

Matisse Reid is a budding chef, even though she's never had a bite to eat in her life.

The 6-year-old New Zealand girl suffers from chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo obstruction, a rare disorder that makes it impossible for her to digest food.

Matisse is sustained by an intravenous tube that sends nutrients directly into her bloodstream, but that doesn't stop her from whipping up gourmet meals for the family or inquiring about cooking classes.

In need of a small bowel transplant -- a surgery that is not available in New Zealand or Australia, but is performed at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Oakland -- Matisse and her family moved to Gibsonia to await a suitable donor.

The curly-haired tot has captured a hearts in Grandview Estates, including that of Peggy Kozej, an interior designer.

Inspired by the Suite Dreams Project, a Michigan-based organization that redecorates rooms for sick children, Peggy and her husband, Jim, decided to use their talents to raise Matisse's spirits.

"She spends 12 to 16 hours a day hooked up to a machine," Kozej said. "We wanted to create a healing place for her."

The couple mobilized the community by writing letters and sending e-mails. Donations, including $500 in cash and supplies, such as window treatments, furniture, bedding and toys, poured in.

With help from Matisse's grandparents, Kathie and John Hands, who are visiting from New Zealand, Kozej was able to sneak into the house and take measurements.

Earlier this month, when Matisse and her parents, Wayne and Jodee, traveled to Ohio for medical tests, their neighbors went to work inside the home, adding splashes of pink and purple to the four bare walls.

Local residents Lisa Arnold and Linda Stauffer arrived at 10 a.m. and were still wielding paint brushes late into the afternoon.

Stauffer wrote Matisse's name on the wall in block letters with Barney the purple dinosaur peeking over the "e." Arnold put together a "prayer board" containing snapshots of all the people who participated in the project.

The group made gift bags for the other Reid children " Rachel, 15, Kalani, 9, and Fraanz, 2.

When Matisse entered her new room, a big smile spread across her face. For a moment, her troubles evaporated in the air, which still carried the smell of fresh paint.

As she awaits a life-saving transplant, Matisse is being nourished not only by an I.V. line, but by the love of two countries.

To help

For more information on Matisse and her condition, visit www.chance2eat.org.nz . Donations can be made through the site.

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