There is a little girl with a big bouquet of flowers on her bed side table today. That bed side table may be at home but it may also be at McMaster Children's Hospital. I met her last night in a magical quiet moment in the lobby of McMaster Children's Hospital.
It had been an incredible 12 hours...up earlier than usual on a Sunday morning...a quick breakfast...drop off Dave (my husband and producer of the Celebration telethon) at the mobile production truck, followed by Tilly (our dog) at my sister's for the day.
The adrenalin is pumping by now. After so many years, it's still the same. The hospital lobby is buzzing by 10 a.m. The production crew are checking their equipment, hospital staff and volunteers sprinting the halls with last minute changes and challenges.
For me, there are notes to check as I review our young patient stories in preparation for their live interviews. There is make-up. There are rehearsals for the show "open". As the last minutes tick down to "live", I take some deep breaths and marvel at how the years have gone by...so many beautiful children...so many happy endings. Even the stories of children with tragic outcomes that can only be described as bitter sweet, inspire us and make us more determined to make it better for another child in their memory.
And now, more beautiful children to fall in love with...
Liam is our "poster child" this year. He has incredibly big brown eyes and is thriving after an equally incredible surgeon named Dr. Sheila Singh extracted a tumour from the middle of his brain. He introduces Dan, my co-host and former co-anchor and me. We are off and running and I mean running!
There is Sarah: gorgeous red hair on a tiny frame; she rinses her own feeding tube, now removed, for a time. She will live with brittle bones, a bleeding disorder and Crones Disease her entire life. She adores her Dr. Bob Issenman, swam with the dolphins at Disney World earlier this year and wants to be a teacher.
There is Taylor: his smile is absolutely infectious! His appendix now serves as a ureter to allow himself to drain his malformed bladder. I can't even spell the medical term for it. He can though, and even makes jokes about it. He also has mitochondrial disease. Taylor alone has raised thousands of dollars for MacKids. He wants to be a doctor.
There is Desiree: We can only see her photos from the neonatal intensive care unit. She was brought into the world early because her Mom, a diabetic, was in endanger of losing her eyesight. Desiree had an infection and trouble feeding. A tube still helps her breathe. She may go home in two weeks.
I re-connect with Will. His "Will-power" brought him from a bald and very sick and frail cancer patient who could barely hold his head up last year to a normal kid who takes great delight in seeing himself on camera, checking out both profiles complete now with a shock of sandy brown hair.
I re-connect with Damian, making huge strides in overcoming neuromuscular disease. MacKids is world famous for its research in this area. His face lights up when he sees me. It takes a few tries because he is laughing so much but he finally says my name!!!!
Shane is also back this year. Now that his doctors have found the right medication, the young teen is taking control of the tics of Tourette Syndrome with confidence and humour. He is a gifted musican and photographer who has already sold some of his work
There are cookies from Liam, a homemade card for Sarah's "awesome doc" two cheques from Taylor and mementos from the nurses who are taking care of Desiree. Doctors literally join us on the set straight from the O.R. After saving a life, they tell me they are nervous about going on tv.
In six hours it's done. A climactic grand total reveals almost $6 million dollars raised through private and corporate donations in a year wracked by a recession. There are tears of joy, relief, exhaustion.
At a wrap party downstairs this now intimate community of health care professionals, young patients, families, foundation executives, production crews and on-air personalities embrace, pay tribute and take photos for special scrapbooks.
After an emotional hour or so, it's time to leave. We reluctantly say good-bye...
Upstairs in the now empty lobby, where the TV cameras are shut-down, lights turned off, and endless kilometers of cable rolled back up for the next production, a lone wheelchair approaches: a Mom and her little girl. Her name is Alyssa... Aly. She reaches for the flowers presented to me just about 30 minutes ago.
This is my magical moment.
Aly is every child whose fight for a "normal" life goes on after the TV show is over. I crouch beside her. I don't think she can speak and her movements are spasmodic. Together we pull out a beautiful blue iris but she motions to another, then another.
It turns out Aly was a healthy little girl who loved to sing and dance until March of last year when a mysterious neurological condition robbed her of all of her abilities. She has been a Mac Kid since and her family is hoping for a diagnosis and then hopefully a cure.
Aly may have to stay in hospital tonight. It's not the first time or the last. The bouquet is hers now. Her Mom says thank you. Thank you Aly for your innocent beauty and reminding us why we were here today.
We were here not just for today...but for tomorrow. We will do all we can to enrich your tomorrows Aly so you can sing and dance again. I will always remember our special moment. I will look for you next year...