NEW PORT RICHEY
From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays, the corner of Town Avenue and Starkey Boulevard transforms into the Longleaf Farmer's Market. Tents sprout up offering items for sale — organic oatmeal raisin cookies, pierogi and the usual health fare found at a produce market, such as bananas and grapes. Today, goodies like raspberry shortbread cookies with heart designs will also be on sale with a specific purpose: All proceeds will benefit 4-month-old Sterling Stover, a Longleaf boy who was born with a congenital heart defect — his right ventricle is half the size it was supposed to be, and doctors found holes in the chambers of his heart.
Doctors discovered the abnormalities when his mother, Rachel Stover, was 23 weeks pregnant. Stover, 29, and her husband, Aaron, 30, had already dealt with health issues with their daughter, Kenedie, now 5.
"We almost had peace with it, because our daughter was born at 27 weeks and was one pound and 10 ounces," Stover said.
Since he was born, Sterling has dealt with blood circulation issues that sometimes turn his small hands and feet purple. At 8 weeks old, he needed a blood transfusion.
Once, he had to be hospitalized for five days after the blood in his arteries started flowing in the opposite direction, causing him to turn blue.
For now, doctors are monitoring the rate at which Sterling's heart grows to determine what steps to take to correct his problems.
Even so, his mother says he is a happy baby.
"The cardiologists say you'd never know he was sick just by looking at him," she said.
Soon after Sterling was born, Stover sent out an e-mail to Longleaf residents asking if anyone wanted to go walking with her in the neighborhood. Jenell Swartz had a baby girl named Marley around the same time Sterling was born, and responded to the e-mail.
The two mothers developed a friendship, and Stover told Swartz about Sterling's heart troubles.
A few weeks back, Swartz got an idea: set up a bake sale during the farmer's market to help her friend. Proceeds would go toward Sterling's doctor's bills. His parents, who do have insurance, are waiting for the bills to arrive.
Stover, a proud woman who installs business software for a document imaging company, wasn't sure how to react to her friend's offer.
"It was really hard to be in the position to accept it," Stover said. "I am not one who reaches out and asks for help. But it's very overwhelming and heartfelt — it tugged on my heartstrings."
To get the ball rolling, Swartz enlisted the help of family and friends to bake things for the sale. By Wednesday morning, peanut butter dog cookies, cinnamon crumb cookies and chocolate cupcakes were being dropped off at her home.
Swartz is also printing out educational information on congenital heart defects to hand out to those who purchase baked goods at the sale.
Swartz hopes the event brings the community together and raises money for the Stovers. She said organizing it has also made her more appreciative of her own life.
"A lot of people have thanked me for doing it," she said. "It made me thankful, too, because I can go home and hold and kiss my baby."
Camille C. Spencer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.