Alden girl’s birthday wish: New blankets and books for NICU babies at Oishei


A little girl in Alden has a big wish list for birthday gifts.

Alannah Pionessa turns 9 on June 8th, and for her birthday, she wants to collect new blankets and storybooks for every baby in the NICU at Oishei Children’s Hospital.

Alannah spent the first 12 weeks of her own life in the NICU at Women and Children’s Hospital in 2009. She was born nearly nine weeks early with a rare birth defect and a grim prognosis: incompatible with life.

“I couldn’t touch her, I couldn’t hold her,” Alannah’s mother, Heather Rust, said. “She was on a very high vent when she was born, and even touching her toes or her fingers sent her into spasms.”

So, while Alannah was in the NICU, her family comforted her with soft blankets, and they read to her constantly so she would learn their voices.

When she was opening her eyes and we were talking to her, ‘Hey, that’s my mom. That’s my dad,'” Rust recalled.

Eight years later, Alannah decided she wanted to help other families going through the same thing.

Last year, she told her mom she didn’t want any birthday presents for herself. She only wanted blankets and books for the babies in the NICU at Women and Children’s.

If I gave something back, I would feel good,” she told News 4.

This year, Alannah is back at it again, trying to collect 100 new blankets and books for every baby in the NICU at Oishei, now that the new hospital is open.

This year’s collection goal is higher than last year’s, and Alannah says she has high hopes for the babies who receive the gifts, too.

“They’ll probably give back,” Alannah predicted, “because they are doing something that’s right.”

Alannah’s family says every blanket and book collected will be a blessing, just as every birthday is a blessing for Alannah, nearly nine years after she got such a difficult start to life.

“She’s definitely feisty. She has this fighting personality, she’s very headstrong, and to this day, I believe it was that personality that got her through,” Rust said. “She was born fighting.”

Now, Alannah is doing what she can to help other babies who are fighting for their lives.

She’s collecting donations of new snuggle blankets and new books, as well as gift cards and monetary donations to buy those items, through her birthday on June 8. No used blankets can be accepted.

Donations can be dropped off at:

Paulter Chiropractic and Wellness, 13305 Broadway St, Alden

The Alden Advertiser,13200 Broadway St, Alden

Dr. Jennifer McVige’s offices at DENT Neurological Institute in Amherst and Orchard Park

Email Alannah’s mother at for more information.

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