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Melanie Hebert / Eyewitness News
Email: mhebert@wwltv.com | Twitter: @melaniehebert

VACHARIE, La. -- Life isn't easy for patients under the care of Children's Hospital. About a thousand children on any given day suffer from disorders.

But one woman from Vacharie is giving the kids something to look forward to when they get dressed in the morning, and the community is getting involved.

This is 4 West, as the kids call it, the hematology/oncology unit of Children's Hospital New Orleans.

'We get off the elevator up on 4 West and Lucy says we're home, and it's kind of bittersweet to hear that,' said Lucy's mother, Karen Boudreaux.

Lucy is 2.5 years old and has leukemia. But she's not getting treatment today. She's meeting a seamstress who's been sort of a Santa Claus on 4 West.

'It was like a Christmas morning kind of surprise that she'd wake up and the overnight nurse had left one at the foot of her bed and she'd wake up very excited to have the new gowns to wear,' Karen Boudreaux said.

There are few drab, open-back hospital gowns here. Instead, Susan Dufrene spends three days a week making custom gowns for the kids.

'Mine are all girly and stuff like that, but you know animal print, because I love animal print. My room is all animal print,' said cancer patient Adrianna 'Tootie' Ponce.

'I like the basketball and baseball and I like that's it's colorful,' said Jive Stewart, a sickle cell anemia patient.

'There's a face and a name to go with each project,' Dufrene said.

The first name was Lara, Dufrene's step grandaughter who has cancer.

'And then from there fabric started rolling in. People started finding out about the gowns,' Dufrene said.

Most of the fabric is donated, but she does it all for free, saying the pay-off is delivering them to 4 West, about 50 gowns each visit.

'It's not just when they put that gown on in the morning and it's forgot about. It's everybody who's seen them during the day and makes a comment about what they have on and it makes them smile, so that makes me smile,' Dufrene said.

And that's why she calls them Lara's Gowns for Smiles.

'The community here between staying on 4 West or being down in the clinic these people become your family,' Karen Boudreaux said. 'And to see all these other kids so happy too and certainly seeing Lucy, who even this morning wanted to carry the gowns and wear the gowns again today.

'It's a big deal.'

'Ms. Susan' has been making the gowns for almost a year now and just finished her thousandth gown this week.

She's always looking for fabric and supplies or monetary donations.

An account is set up at Regions Bank under Lara's Gowns for Smiles, or you can mail your donation to 234 Des Allemands, Vacherie, La., 70090.

To find out about fabric drop-off locations or to set one up, call 225-265-2880.

You can find out more by clicking here.

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