LETHBRIDGE - Without STARS Air Ambulance Paramedics, Mandy Dececco-Kolebaba says her now three-year-old son Leo wouldn't be here.
"Leo, at 11-weeks-old was very, very ill. We took him to the hospital, and within the eight hours we were there, he went from being very ill, to extremely ill. They could not get his oxygen levels up, and he started to crash."
From there, Dececco-Kolebaba says hospital staff first told the family an ambulance would transfer him to Calgary, then an airplane and finally, STARS Air Ambulance. With that news, they were also told to say good-bye to their son.
"My husband and I were in absolute panic, not knowing what was going on...and all of a sudden STARS came down the hallway and it was like, we just knew he was going to be ok."
The STARS paramedics kept their word to send updates on Dececco-Kolebaba's son, even during the flight, and made sure to let them know when they arrived at Children's Hospital.
Leo was in the hospital for the next two weeks, diagnosed with pneumonia and bronchitis. He has since made a full recovery and even came with his mom, six-year-old brother Jack and four-month-old Jude to the launch of the 25th edition of the STARS Ambulance Lottery in Lethbridge.
It all kicked off at one of the showhomes, built by Van Arbor Homes' Val and Mike Lowen and their staff.
Val says the craftsman-style home is called the 'Jenna Michele', after their baby girl.
"She was born in 1991, and [she] sadly passed away from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome... I think when anyone loses a child it's a difficult thing. So for many years we wished to have some sort of a memorial gift that we gave to her, and when we found out we were getting the STARS home we began to think about it... and we named the model after her."
Lowen says any subsequent STARS homes they may build will be named after people whose lives were saved.
Paramedic and Calgary-based Director of Operations, Jim Morris, says STARS had 74 missions in Lethbridge alone last year, and an average of five per day across the province. The money raised from lottery ticket sales in the community helps keep their operation running.
"It's what we do. Fighting for people's lives. Fighting to stay sustainable, relying on communities, supporting rural healthcare, helping with inter-hospital transports, working with our other allies in emergency medical services.
"STARS is your service. We couldn't do without it [support]. We certainly get some small government support, but the majority of it comes from donors and allies and supporters throughout the community."
The early bird ticket deadline is Feb. 28. There are four grand prizes this year, including three show homes and one $500,000 cash prize.
Tickets can be purchased online at http://starslotteryalberta.ca/, at the showhome located 119 Canyon Estates Way W, or by telephone 1-888-880-0992.
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