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The fabulous fundraising five-year-old

On a bright, cool morning this summer, Rhea decided a leather jacket was needed before heading outside her house. Sunglasses too.

She seated herself behind a small desk that was placed at the end of her driveway.

As part of a neighbourhood garage sale, she helped set up her kiosk and a sign reading, “We are raising money for Holland Bloorview! Goal = $2,500.”

In front of her was a pitcher of lemonade and a stack of plastic cups.

Sharing the story of how she almost died, and how Holland Bloorview helped her, it’s no wonder neighbours who passed by suddenly felt thirsty...and generous.

Ironically, just above this stand was a street sign that read, “Watch for Children.”

This five-year old advocate and fundraiser is definitely worth watching.

From a flu to facing a nightmare

Just over a year ago, her parents wondered if Rhea would live.

When Rhea was four years old, she developed a rare condition called acute necrotizing encephalitis (ANE).

The energetic preschooler essentially came down with a flu...a flu that caused her to go into a coma that led to severe brain damage.

Doctors at Sick Kids were able to diagnose her illness, but they prepared her mother, Anshu, and her father, Mohit, for the worst, giving her little chance of surviving. But Rhea woke from her coma, showing a fighting spirit that surprised everyone.

However, the road back wasn’t going to be easy. “She had no physical skills, she couldn’t eat or talk,” said Anshu.

Rhea eventually became strong enough to be transferred to Holland Bloorview.

From hesitation to appreciation

At first, changing hospitals made Anshu uneasy.

“Little did we know we were going somewhere that was going to become an extension of our family,” she said.

Arriving in January 2015, Rhea spent five months with Holland Bloorview’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team.

Her days were filled with physiotherapy, speech therapy and music therapy. “Three or four sessions every day, five days a week,” said Anshu.

Repeating her pattern, Rhea made remarkable progress and exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Just weeks after returning home that spring, Anshu told Rhea the family was going to have a garage sale. She seemed keen to be involved.

Rhea discovers fundraising

“I said ‘Okay, if you participate, the money from everything we sell will go to Holland Bloorview.’ And her eyes lit up.”

The next morning, Rhea helped her mom sell odds and ends, and showing obvious charm, she raised $70.

“We were extremely proud of her,” said Anshu. “She told everybody that she was raising money for Holland Bloorview, and people opened up their wallets and their hearts.”

Seeing how much she enjoyed fundraising, her parents asked if she wanted to do more. Rhea lit up again.

Funds for playroom fun

A bigger fundraising effort followed that involved family, friends and local companies, with Rhea gladly playing the role of spokesperson.

That led to Rhea presenting Holland Bloorview with a cheque last fall for $2,200.

She asked that the funds be directed to the hospital’s third floor playroom “where she spent copious amounts of time,” said Anshu. “It was such a proud moment for us. She was able to give back and we loved that she was proud of what she was doing.”

Lemonade leads to support

This past summer, the community sale was happening again and Rhea was even more determined to spread the word.

Her lemonade stand bustled with shoppers, friends and classmates from school. Rhea sat outside for hours, with the temperature climbing to 30 degrees. But the heat couldn’t stop her.

Sharing her story and answering everyone’s questions between glasses, she raised another $570, well on her way to her $2,500 goal.

For Anshu, watching Rhea’s progress through garage sales and fundraising is priceless.

“It helps her work on her speech because she has to speak to people who don’t know her well,” she said. Handing out items and collecting money helps her with her fine motor skills, and this exposes her to new experiences, which I believe stimulates her mind and gives her confidence.

“Even at such a young age, she understands she’s doing something meaningful,” added Anshu. “She understands that she is not only giving to the hospital, she’s also benefitting herself.”