It would have been a tough order even for Santa. The Childhood Cancer Community needed 50 My Life As A Survivor dolls for kids with cancer. Heather Haberman was on the case, recruiting elves in three states to help her track down the hard-to-find dolls.
"I'm determined," Heather tells us. She's also a mother with a mission: making sure every hospitalized child receives a toy each time they're hospitalized. It's a mission that was inspired by her son, Jessy. He was born with a rare genetic syndrome that required "lots of doctor's appointments and lots of pokes and prods," Heather says. "He was no stranger to the hospital."
During one of his many trips, Jessy needed an iron infusion, and he was scared. Really scared. Then a nurse brought him a gift: a red Power Ranger. "It took him out of that moment for a little while," Heather says. "It made him smile." After learning the toy had been a Christmas donation to the hospital, Jessy told Heather that he wanted to donate toys for other kids. And Jessy's Toy Box was born.
"The first year we started I put a message out on Facebook around Christmastime that we were collecting toys," Heather says. That call resulted in a vanload of donations. The second year, Heather again rallied her Facebook friends and collected two vanloads of toys. The third year? You guessed it. Heather and her husband, Jim — aided by Jessy and his siblings — delivered three vanloads of presents to hospitals, including to Mayo Clinic, where Jessy received much of his treatment.
Just a couple of months later, Jessy was back at Mayo. But this time, it wasn't to deliver toys. Jessy needed surgery. It would be his 15th procedure, and the second on his generous heart. "Before he went in to surgery, he said, 'Mom, if my heart gets better, can I still do Jessy's Toy Box?'" Heather tells us. She assured him that he could. But Jessy never got that chance. "The surgery fixed his heart, but everything else gave out," Heather says. As she and Jim said goodbye to their son, they "made him some promises," Heather says. At the top was "making Jessy's Toy Box as big as he dreamed it would be."
They're well on their way. Jessy's Toy Box now has 50 collection locations in four states. And the gifts they collect aren't delivered only during the holidays, but throughout the year. "Kids are sick 365 days a year," Heather says. "They're sick at Christmas and on their birthdays and in the summer when they should be outside playing." Through Jessy's Toy Box, Heather wants to help those kids be kids. "I want them to forget why they're there for a little bit," she says.
Heather tells us that the work she does for Jessy's Toy Box — work like hunting down hard-to-find dolls — is a gift to her. And one that helps her stay connected to the boy she loves so dearly. "This is a way to keep Jessy with me," she says. "He's not here for us to buy Christmas or birthday presents for. We do this instead. It feels like I'm still helping him."
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