FALL RIVER: Brynn Gillis knows how important the IWK and IWK Foundation are to children and families like hers.
Gillis, a Grade 8 student at Georges P. Vanier Junior High in Fall River, was a special speaker at announcement at the IWK on Oct. 25, where the Foundation revealed a more than $300,000 donation from Atlantic Superstore. The money came from the retail giant’s “Give a Little, Help a Lot” campaign.
“It was very nerve wrecking because I don’t like talking in front of people, but it meant a lot that they thought of me when they were looking for someone to speak,” said Brynn in an interview with The Laker. “It made me proud to speak.”
Brynn spoke about Bergen, the brother she didn’t get to meet. He died as a result of a rare and terminal congenital heart disease more than 15 years ago when he was just eight months old. Since then, Melanie has spoken at countless radio-thons, telethons, donor and public events on behalf of the IWK. This time, it was Brynn doing the speaking before the good sized crowd.
“The IWK has been an important part of my life and a part of who I am,” said Brynn, 12. “I started coming to the IWK even before I was born. The doctors were keeping a close eye on my heart because I had an older brother Bergen who had a rare heart disease and only lived until he was eight-months-old.”
Some of the doctors that were her doctors when she was at the IWK, were ones who saw and looked after Bergen some 15 years earlier in the neo-natal intensive care unit.
The speech was about the older brother she never met but primarily focused on her little brother Gregor Gillis, a nine-year-old student at Holland Road Elementary School in Fletchers Lake.
Gregor was born with Down syndrome and has had a multitude of health problems including juvenile diabetes, kidney disease and leukemia. They thought at the time he would never walk. She was hoping her parents would name him Diego after the Dora the Explorer character.
The announcement at the IWK was being held to unveil that Atlantic Superstore employees raised $318,000 through their Give a Little, Help a Lot campaign. The gift brought the retail giants contribution to more than $3 million. These funds are raised dollar by dollar by customers who add $2 for the IWK to their grocery order, or through additional fundraisers hosted at individual Atlantic Superstore locations.
“This campaign shows that our Atlantic Superstore colleagues and customers are proud to partner with the IWK Foundation and support world-class health care for Maritime children and their families,” said Mark Boudreau, director of Corporate Affairs for Loblaw Atlantic in a release. “The IWK connects all Maritimers, and we are privileged to be able to give back to this world-class facility.”
Funds raised by Atlantic Superstore help support the most urgent priority care needs of the IWK – which have in the past included surgical equipment, anesthesia machines, trauma carts, infant scales – all of which are vital to the provision of world-class care.
A surprise greeted those at the announcement as Gregor walked onto the stage all on his own to a round of applause. He then gave the crowd a polite thank you bow.
“That was cool to do,” said Gregor with a bright smile.
Brynn, who hopes to do something as a job with the IWK, went on to explain the piece of her heart that is missing Bergen despite not ever meeting him.
“It’s difficult to explain what it is like to miss someone you’ve never known,” she said. “Sometimes I wonder what Bergen would be like, other times I feel sad that he has to miss out on our fun and love.”
She said when Gregor was diagnosed at 18 months of age with leukemia, it changed the families lives forever.
“I was scared when he got cancer and I could see it in my parents eyes they were scared too,” said Brynn. “Sometimes I thought it would never get better.”
Gregor is now cancer free after three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy.
Brynn said seeing how Gregor’s life has been impacted by the staff at the IWK shows how important it is for others in their situation.
“This would never have been possible without the support and effort from all those at the IWK,” she said.
Mom Melanie feels Bergen was looking down and giving her the courage to speak.
“She was honouring his memory at the announcement,” she said. “If he was ever going to be with Brynn, it was today.”
And like those with the IWK, her parents and brother Gregor, he would be very proud of her.