Special to The Comox Valley Record
Eighteen-year-old Makenzie Jesse knows a thing or two about hospital stays.
Makenzie, who has cerebral palsy, has had 12 surgeries in children’s hospitals across Canada, often enduring long stays (sometimes for weeks) even over the Christmas season.
It’s this personal experience that has driven Makenzie for years to help other children who spend time in hospital beds instead of their own beds at home.
“I was sitting in a hospital bed a few years ago and this one girl knocked on my door and she asked, ‘Can we colour together?’ and I said yes. She told me she was there for brain surgery,” Makenzie explained using sign language. “Children were crying all around me and I thought, ‘We need to help these children.’”
That’s why for the past three Christmases, Makenzie has been saving up her allowances, chore money, birthday and Christmas money to buy toys for children, including for the Salvation Army and, this year, the pediatrics unit at North Island Hospital Comox Valley.
On Nov. 1 Makenzie’s mother Shalain called the Comox Valley Healthcare Foundation to discuss Makenzie’s special donation to Pediatrics. Makenzie had already bought a bunch of toys, puzzles, books and colouring books and had plans to buy more in time for Christmas.
“When we were starting to get all of these toys I was getting so excited to give them to the hospital,” said Makenzie. “I remember I was in casts one Christmas and I was in pain, but all the people around me made magic at Christmas for me.
“I want to make Christmas magic for kids.”
On Dec. 6, Makenzie brought nearly 50 toys to the new hospital and delivered them to the Pediatrics Unit on the second floor, presenting the tote of toys to clinical co-ordinator Kelly Phillips and pediatric nurse Laurie Pratt. There were Disney dolls, puzzles, Hot Wheels, board games, colouring books, diaries, baby toys, books and other active toys to keep kids busy and happy over the holidays and throughout year. She also donated items for youth who stay in the Mental Health Inpatient Unit on fourth floor.
“They can do all of this if they’re sitting in a hospital bed,” Makenzie explained about her choices. “They can read, they can colour, make shapes, because they’re usually not feeling well. They can have dolls to play with on their bed trays. When I was a little girl I always coloured and did puzzles on the bed trays.”
Shalain said that she was amazed how often her own daughter would be thinking about helping other kids when Makenzie, still a child herself, was in bed with full leg casts for weeks at a time.
“It’s her who came up with this,” said Shalain, “And we support her through it, but it’s all her; her ideas and her hard work. It’s her big heart.”
Makenzie has a long history of giving, coming up with many projects since she was six years old, including growing and selling pumpkins with her brother to the Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital, raising $5,000 to build a well in Kenya, participating in We Day, sending Christmas operation boxes and now giving toys to her local hospital and wanting to volunteer there.
Her goal for next is year is to be able to donate 100 toys, doubling her total this Christmas, and she hopes the community can help.
“I hope more children can understand what I am doing and want to help out,” she said. “If we can get my toy drive to spread in the community and get even more toys next year than that would be good.”
Makenzie will be back in the hospital this January after her 13th surgery, with possibly two more operations in 2018 after that. Despite her upcoming surgeries, Makenzie’s thoughts are focused elsewhere, planning to help deliver more ‘Christmas magic’ to kids staying at Comox Valley Hospital now and in the future.
“If anyone wants to help get all of the toys together next year I can bring them in [to the hospital]. Maybe I need to start my own Christmas toy drive, and turn this into a little Christmas ‘operation.’”