Boy Honours Late Father

By Kevin Shea 9/25/09 |

Nine-year-old raises $2000

Michael Fessaha
Michael Fessaha with PMHF CEO Paul Alofs
To look at him, Toronto’s Michael Fessaha is a regular kid – just turned nine, a handsome young man with a twinkle in his eye and who is always on the go. But beneath the exterior lies a soul that’s wise and compassionate beyond its years. Few of us, let alone a kid, can lay claim to raising $2000 for cancer research.

In December 2005, Michael’s father was diagnosed with stomach cancer. His frequent visits to the hospital for chemo treatments had impacted Michael, and as his journey was coming to an end, his only child was deeply affected. Although his final five weeks in palliative care at The Princess Margaret were filled with love (“His room could easily have been mistaken for a maternity room, there was so much joy,” explains his wife, Gaby Abdelgadir), Michael’s father passed away on February 13, 2008.

Michael took his father’s death exceptionally hard, and through sage advice, was set up with a guidance counselor, Carrie Mack, to ease him through the tragic loss. Mack brought Michael together with Lisa Slater, a teacher at St. Albert Elementary Catholic School in Scarborough, Ontario.

One day, Michael’s mother received a phone call at work. “A teacher [Slater] from Michael’s school was on the phone,” recalls Abdelgadir. “I asked her if everything was okay and she assured me that it was. But then she got emotional as she told me of a plan Michael had discussed with her.”

The plan was nothing short of astonishing. She relayed to his mom what Michael had said: “I want to do something to help other kids who have lost their father or mother. I want to raise money for cancer research and give it to three hospitals in Toronto — Princess Margaret because that was where my dad was; Toronto General because that’s where my dad had his operation, and Sick Kids.” Michael wanted to do something “so no other kids ever lose their mom or dad, and so no mother or father ever has to lose their kid.”

Abdelgadir was stuck for words. Through shaken speech, she asked, “My Mikey said that to you?”

“Yes,” came Slater’s response.

Michael had already thought through his plan. He believed that a toy sale at the school could raise the money he envisioned. He explained that toys, games, DVDs and books that other students and their families didn’t want any longer could be sold with the proceeds split three ways between the hospitals.

“Do we have your consent to go ahead with this special project?” asked the teacher.

“You’ve not only got my blessing, but tell me how I can help,” replied Abdelgadir.

With Slater’s assistance, Michael created flyers that went home to parents, and Abdelgadir also circulated the flyers around her office at Deloitte and Touche. Michael couldn’t have dreamed of a greater response: a flood of toys, games, new iPods, DVDs and books arrived at the school. But in addition, brand new sports equipment, jerseys, gift certificates, games and a new bicycle were donated by his counselor, staff and students. It was decided that these items would be objects of desire for a raffle, so tickets were sold for these prizes. A few surprise cheques were also received.

The entire school community got involved with what some came to call “Michael’s Wish.” From beginning to end, Michael, Abdelgadir, Slater and Mack worked tirelessly. Michael’s teacher, other staff, students, families, the secretary, caretakers, and the principal and vice-principal also joined in. The toy sale and raffle raised just shy of $2,000 – a large sum for anyone, but a staggering amount for a shy nine-year-old boy. But that boy had a mission, and it was most certainly accomplished.

Slater made the appointment, and on Monday, March 2, a beaming Michael Fessaha marched into The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation and was greeted by Paul Alofs, president and CEO of Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation. “I wanted to deliver this cheque in person in memory of my dad. He died from cancer,” Michael told Alofs.

“I’m so glad you did, Michael,” said Alofs, accepting a cheque from Michael for $662.37, the portion allotted for PMHF.

“It’s why I got a day off school,” Michael said.

Alofs smiled. “Michael, I think there’s a whole lot more to it than that!”

When Michael returned to school later that day, he shared the story of his visits to the hospitals with the principal and vice-principal. At day’s end, he made a P.A. announcement to the entire school.

“I had a wish to raise money for cancer research,” he explained. “I want to say a big thank you to all of you for helping to make my wish come true. Take it from me, you are never too young to make a difference, and to help other people.”

* Kevin Shea, sports writer and hockey author, is also the manager of public relations at PMHF and wrote this piece after hearing of Michael Fessaha’s mission

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* is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.