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Josie MacKinnon is a bright young girl with a big smile and, in just over a week, she will be joining her peers as she enters grade two, full of excitement and curiosity. It hasn’t always been such a normal routine for Josie, however. “Two years ago, Josie ended up in the Stollery from a cyst in her brain that ruptured and caused a lot of grief,” explained her mom, Jen MacKinnon. She’s had five brain surgeries, two procedures, and spent over 40 days in the hospital.
“During our time there, every time she would go in for a surgery, she would be given a new toy after, so it really kind of shifted her attitude towards having to go in for brain surgery. It went from being super scary to ‘Cool, I get a new toy; this is awesome!’” After spending so much time at the Stollery, Josie ended up with quite a few toys.
“They would give them to her when she was having a bad day, if she had troubles doing needles, or if she couldn’t eat all day.” So, Josie and her family decided they wanted to help restock the toys and help give back to other children. “There’s kids coming in every day that need brain surgery or spine surgery so we came up with Josie’s Toy Drive shortly after she got home from the hospital and we’ve been doing it every year since.”
Between the previous two years that they held the drive, they had collected over 200 toys. On Saturday, August 26, they held their third annual event at Make My Fun Hobbies & Toys and raised 108 toys! “This year we wanted to add something extra so we invited Jacob’s Wish to come be a part of our lemonade stand, with all proceeds going towards them.”
Jacob’s Wish was created by Soula Milonas on behalf of her son Jacob who went through almost 100 surgeries and spent 80 per cent of his short life at the Stollery. He, just like Josie, had a big beautiful smile and his greatest wish was for everyone to be happy. He passed away on May 27, 2015, at the tender age of 14 and his mom has continued helping other children in his name.
Soula is the community co-ordinator for the Neurosurgery Kids Fund which is made up of various professionals who are dedicated to serving babies, children, and adolescents with neurosurgical conditions who have been treated at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. “We bring them different care packages in the hospital just to get them through and show them that they have support. We give people a little extra hope and let them know they are not alone.”
Everything donated to the fund goes 100 per cent into the Stollery. The fund works with the staff to find out which families are having the hardest time and gives back to them. “If a child is very ill we find out what their favourite thing is and we can go in and purchase it right away and get that to them,” explained Soula.
Josie’s Toy Drive will have an immediate impact on children and families. “It’s always been very therapeutic to get our story out. It helps me cope with the trauma of it all and it helps other families. It makes me feel like it was worth all of what we went through and that there was a reason behind having to endure it,” said Jen.
Josie had surgery at the end of June to correct some eye issues including double vision and a crossed eye. “Since about mid-July we have been double vision free so really, as much as a neuro child can be done, she’s done. She still has a shunt and some risk factors but she’s done. I feel like I don’t have to fight for anything else to fix. She’s getting ready to go into grade two; she’s growing up so fast. I’m so grateful.”
At 1 p.m. on Saturday, right in the middle of the toy drive, Josie received a huge surprise from the Make a Wish Foundation. They have granted her wish and she, along with her family, will be boarding a Disney cruise on December 11 for a four-day, all-expenses-paid vacation. The moment she realized what was happening, she leapt into the air and screamed for joy. “It feels really good. I’m very excited to see all the Disney people,” she said, with a big smile.
Michelle Flemming and Siew Ku, official Wish Granters from the Make a Wish Foundation were on hand for the big reveal. “There’s no better volunteer job than this one. They call us the cherry-on-top people because our job is just to make the wish child and family have fun and get excited,” said Michelle.
Barefoot Rentals, Water Pure and Simple, Make My Fun Hobbies & Toys, Staples, and True North helped make the event extra successful. Soula knows just how the MacKinnon family feels with receiving a wish trip and is so happy for them. “It’s amazing. I got to take my son on a wish trip, too, and it’s just fantastic. Josie’s family is so deserving. They give back all the time.”
With $1,000 for Jacob’s Wish and 108 toys raised, the 3rd Annual Josie’s Toy Drive has been a huge success. “Thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” said Jen. Have fun in grade two, Josie!