In the summer of 2007, Dean and Jeanine Otto’s five-year-old daughter Maddy died at Roger Neilson House after a brief and sudden illness.
The devastated couple and their seven-year-old daughter Hannah began attending bereavement counselling at the pediatric palliative and respite care facility located on the grounds of CHEO. They credit that counselling with allowing them to begin to deal with the “new normal” of their lives.
“We only spent six hours in Roger Neilson House with Maddy, but it was the bereavement counselling afterward that really helped us,” says Dean. “You can give up, or you can strive to move forward,” he continues. “We chose to go forward.”
As the couple began to rebuild their lives around the void that Maddy’s death had left behind, they discussed with Hannah and with friends what they could do to honour her memory. The idea for Maddy’s Gala was born!
What started eleven years ago as a small event attended by friends and family to generate funds for Roger Neilson House, has grown into an annual powerhouse fundraising evening. So far, it has raised almost $600,000 for the facility.
Initially, the couple thought the event might last a year or two, but the community rallied behind it, and Maddy’s Gala has taken on a life of its own. “Regular people and big sponsors alike step forward to make a difference – they all want to be involved,” says Jeanine.
“It’s definitely an emotional evening, especially the speeches and slide presentation at the beginning,” notes Dean. “But it’s a fun night, too.”
What the couple find particularly gratifying is that other Roger Neilson House families attend the event. Not just those who have lost a child at the facility, but also those whose children are still actively receiving care.
“People always focus so much on the birth of a child, and rightly so,” concludes Dean. “A child going out of this world is something no one ever wants to see, but if it has to happen, it should happen at Roger Neilson House.”
Dean and Jeanine are forever grateful for what Roger Neilson House did for them. “It was there when we needed it,” Jeanine says simply. And thanks to their incredible work with Maddy’s Gala, the couple are ensuring that countless other families - just like their own - will have the support they need to choose to move forward with their lives.
Maddy’s Gala takes place at the Brookstreet Hotel on February 17, 2018.