Maddy Otto may be gone, but she certainly isn’t forgotten.
A sunny day at the lake building a dream cottage turned into a nightmare when the five-year-old was rushed to CHEO because of seizures. It was then the family was told Maddy had an inoperable tumour on her brainstem. It was terminal.
The Barrhaven family moved into Roger’s House to spend what was the last week with their once vibrant daughter.
“She got sick on the Sunday and we had the funeral the next weekend,” Maddy’s mom Jeanine said, while looking at a photo of her daughter.
While the family was in what Jeanine called a black hole, the bereavement counselling and support of other parents through Roger’s House is what helped them through.
“After a while we were able to tell people (who had also lost children) they would smile again without feeling guilty,” Jeanine said.
Jeanine said she has developed lifelong friendships from the support groups she has attended.
She remembered one particular session with a young, 19-year-old man who had lost someone. He was covered in piercings and tattoos. At the beginning of the session she wasn’t sure what to think, by the end they were crying together.
“He truly knew what I felt in a way no one else did,” Jeanine said.
It was that support that motivated the Otto family to remember Maddy with a fundraising initiative.
The first Maddy’s Gala took place in February 2008. This year the organizing committee hopes to bring the total fundraising goal to $250,000.
It is a realistic goal. The first year organizers managed to raise $10,000 hosting the event at the Monterey Inn. Last year they raised $50,000 and moved into their new home at the Delta City Centre.
This year’s theme will be fire and ice, with sculptures of butterflies, which symbolizes the rebirth of a loved one that has passed on. There will be live and silent auctions and entertainment.
“I always say if I can get you there once you will keep coming back,” Jeanine said.
On top of the gala the family always participates in the Walk, Roll and Run for Roger’s House every summer.
They started the year Maddy died and managed to raise $22,000.
Every year but one Maddy’s team has been the largest to participate in the fundraiser. Jeanine said tons of friends and family came out to remember a little tomboy who loved superheroes.
She added planning the annual gala is bittersweet.
“It’s a bit like planning a wedding,” she said. “For that part of the year you’re surrounded by support and then it ends.”
Maddy’s older sister Hannah, who is now 12, has said she will take over planning the event when she is older.
For more information on the event visit maddysgala.com.