"We're going to big gym school!"
That’s what three-year-old Marlee says every time she and her mom head to the gymnasium at Holland Bloorview where Marlee has physiotherapy through its Brain Injury Rehab program.
A year ago, Marlee experienced an auto-immune illness that affected her motor skills and balance.
When she first arrived at Holland Bloorview, she couldn’t walk without help or dress herself. Bending over to pick up a toy was almost impossible, and she worried about walking up and down stairs. Emotionally, she was quick to get upset and angry.
She has spent time with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists, as well as a neurologist who have all helped Marlee get her strength and balance back.
Her parents, Irene and Leo, say the team was “amazing” and has endless admiration for their patience, flexibility and understanding. She knows their challenges first-hand: “Marlee’s a bit of a stubborn kid,” Irene jokes.
The staff also helped Irene to ensure Marlee’s safety outside of the hospital. They talked to staff at her Preschool about how to meet her special needs.
And when older sister Ella wanted to help with Marlee’s therapy, the staff supported her to set up “pretend” physiotherapy activities for Marlee at home, just like in big gym school.
Over the months, Marlee's abilities and confidence grew, and her happiness blossomed.
Today, her walking continues to improve and she’s no longer afraid to tackle a set of stairs. She now puts on her own coat and shoes. And bending over to pick up toys? That’s a snap.
Marlee’s spirits improved so much that she told her mom she wanted to celebrate her third birthday in style. She wanted a big party! That’s when Irene and Leo had a brilliant idea.
“Why not give back to the place that helped her come home?” Irene thought. “It just seemed natural.”
Irene organized an “ECHOage” birthday party.
Party invitations are sent through a special webpage where guests can make online contributions.
Half of the money goes to presents for the birthday girl or boy, while the other half goes to a charity of the birthday kid’s choice. Not surprisingly, Marlee chose Holland Bloorview.
“The party was a big success!” says Leo. Sixteen kids and 15 adults joined Marlee at Kidnasium (a children’s recreation centre) where staff set up games and let the kids run around the gym.
“It was so nice to see Marlee do a lot of the things the other kids could do,” says Irene. “She was able to climb up the slide on her own, play parachute, jump on the trampoline and just run around! A year ago, she would not have been able to do any of this!
“Holland Bloorview helped Marlee to get back, both physically and emotionally,” says Leo. “Now she can do what a three-year-old should be able to do. We raised about $545 dollars through her party. It’s not a huge amount, but we hope it will help Bloorview with the programs that gave Marlee so much.”