Our publicly funded health care system is financed through taxation. Yet, government decisions to limit spending on health care create deficits that impact medical infrastructure. Hospitals across Ontario rely on significant contributions from donor communities. Non-profit organizations such as Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) raise funds for children’s hospitals across Canada. Donations support the health of 10 million children each year. 

The mandate of CMN is to increase awareness of the need for funding for children’s hospitals. Their imperative is shared by Raymond Hardisty, a local hero from Stayner Ontario, who embodies a drive for fund-raising that aims to change kids’ health. Since 2008, Raymond has raised more than $126,000 for CMN and the Hospital for Sick Children. CMN ensures funds are distributed across the community in which they are raised so that donations are directed to local hospitals to fund critical treatments, healthcare services, medical equipment, and research. 

Raymond’s motive for raising funds is personal. He wants to give back to the hospital that saved his life as a child. “Speaking from experience, I know that there are kids today who, just like me when I was a kid, want to feel better and go home.”

You may recall Raymond’s story from the June 2021 Cancer Chat. Raymond was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder called Kostmann’s Neutropenia. The disorder causes a deficiency of white blood cells that can cause the patient to eventually develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Raymond was diagnosed with AML at the age of four. In April 1994, Raymond received a bone-marrow transplant in an attempt to increase the success of chemotherapy to treat AML. Although the cancer was cured, due to the transplant, Raymond developed a medical complication called graft versus host disease (GVHD), which has affected his appearance. After years of visits to the hospital and fighting hundreds of medical complications, Raymond has been cancer free for 28 years. Now Raymond wants to give back. “No child should have to spend the first few years of their life or their birthday or Christmas in the hospital.”

Early in his fundraising campaign, Raymond sold paper balloons to customers at the Dairy Queen where he worked. During the pandemic, due to a compromised immune system from multiple treatments over the years, Raymond had to keep away from his job at the Dairy Queen. But, the pandemic did not dampen his spirit for raising money for the hospital that he credits for saving his life. In 2020, Raymond started a bottle drive to collect alcohol-related empties, glass, and plastics to continue to raise money in support of CMN. Raymond’s bottle drive slogan, “Turn your empties into hope,” underscores the integrity of this young man. “It’s my way of saying thank you to Sick Kids Hospital for giving me my life back.”

The bottle drive in previous years took place over 16 weeks. This year, Raymond and the team collected bottles on three days: June 1, July 6, and August 10. “We take whatever we can on those days,” Raymond tells me. Collection day starts by putting on bottle drive t-shirts and setting up bottle drive signs. The event began in the evening and involved a team effort to collect loads of empty glass and plastic bottles. People bring the bottles in blue recycling receptacles, garbage bags, and heavy cardboard crates. Some people indicate the number of cans in the boxes, helping the sorting process. During the collection, Raymond and the team initiated the laborious process of separating the bottles and getting them ready for return. By the end, Raymond says, “the trailer is packed from the ground to the roof!” The next day, the bottles are returned. Raymond and his team unload their trailers at the beer store, collecting just under $900 in June, over $1,400 in July, and over $1,500 in August. “It all adds up,” Raymond says.

Raymond has been recognized for his efforts. In August 2018, he threw the first pitch at a Blue Jays game in Toronto. In August of 2021, he was awarded the prestigious Melvin Jones Fellowship by the Stayner Lions Club for a tremendous contribution to humanity and to the legacy of Lions Club founder Melvin Jones. In November 2021, Dairy Queen honoured Raymond with the Beacon of Hope award. The award is presented to North American DQ employees who go above and beyond in their fundraising efforts to support Sick Kids hospital. Presented every other year since 2014, Raymond is the fifth recipient and the only Canadian to receive the award. The Novmeber 25 presentation was a complete surprise; Sherry Schapp, former DQ franchise owner, asked if Raymond could come to the store to give a lecture to trainees about his fund-raising efforts. He arrived to see Schaap, a representative from DQ Canada, and a film crew. “He is the most inspirational person,” said Schaap, who recently retired in 2020 as owner of Stayner Dairy Queen. “Raymond has spent his lifetime being a beacon of hope to others.”

Raymond is a local celebrity. Raymond tells me, “Everywhere I go, people say I know you or I saw you in the newspaper. I do like it! Making a name for myself.”

Submitted by: Dr. Oliver Kent, Cancer researcher and Senior Scientist at adMare BioInnovations.  

Do you have an idea or question you would like to read about in the Cancer Chat? Email (kent.uhn@gmail.com) or text (438-874-6546) and let me know!