Toy Drive a Holiday Tradition for Transplant Family

Each year, Linsey Rippy and her family organize a toy drive to stock the toy closets at Mayo Clinic and Ronald McDonald House. It's their way of paying forward the kindness they've been shown.

Like many kids her age, Madi Rippy enjoys paging through the holiday toy catalogs that begin arriving each year around Halloween. (#OneHolidayAtATime. Please.) But Madi's not studying the catalogs for herself. "She'll tell me, 'Oh, Mom! I think the kids in the hospital would really like this,'" Madi's mom, Linsey Rippy, tells us. "It makes me very proud of her that she wants to be so giving."

We suspect it's an inherited trait. Giving is a longstanding tradition in the Rippy household, as much a part of the holidays as baking, decorating and watching Christmas movies. For the past nine years, the family has spearheaded a toy drive to stock the toy closets at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center and Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.

Both are places the family knows well. Madi and her younger sister, Sydney, were born with dilated cardiomyopathy and each underwent a heart transplant at just 3 years old. In the years since, the Rippys have returned to Mayo Clinic many, many times. They make the 95-mile drive from their home in Blaine, Minnesota, for checkups every three or four months, and more often if problems arise. Which, for kids who have had transplants, they often do.

For Madi, one of those problems came earlier this year, leading to a weeklong hospital stay. And the opportunity to pick a few items from the toy closet that she'd helped stock. It was a reminder of what a big difference a little treat can make. "In really hard moments, just the tiniest gesture can get you through the day," Linsey says. For kids in the hospital, a new toy can be a distraction or a motivator; for parents, a reminder that someone cares. "We wouldn't have gotten through what we have without kindness from other people, some we knew and some who were strangers," she says.

The toy drive is Linsey's way of paying those kindnesses forward and also counting her blessings. "We've had a lot happen to our family," she says. "Sometimes I think, 'Why me? Why both my children?' But then I think of the parents who have lost a child and would do anything to have the struggles we have because it would mean their child was with them."

And thanks to organ donors, Linsey and her husband, Noel, have been able to celebrate Christmases, first days of school and many other milestones with their children — including Madi's 10-year transplant anniversary, which took place in August. "There are 5,256,000 minutes in 10 years. All of these minutes Madi has lived because of an organ donor," Linsey writes on Madi's CaringBridge site. "There are truly no words to say thank you, no gesture that can possibly live up to the enormity of the gift Madi has been given."

If you're inspired to give thanks for the gifts in your life, consider purchasing an item from the Amazon wish list Linsey created with input from Mayo Clinic pediatric nurses (and Madi). If you're in Rochester, you can also leave a donation in the Vascular Center on the 4th floor of the Gonda Building or at Werner Electric. Donations are also being accepted at Creative Change Hair Studio in Mantorville and Adagio's Pizza Factory in New Brighton.

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