We’ve all heard the saying: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. One remarkable teen girl has embraced that sentiment quite literally — and has raised thousands of dollars for OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in the process.
Fourteen-year-old Elle Fischer was born with hemifacial microsomia, a rare condition that affects the development of the lower half of the face, including the ears, mouth and jaw. In Elle’s case, her left jawbone is severely underdeveloped, making it difficult for her to eat, breathe and speak.
From her earliest days as a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), treating her condition has required long stays at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. She has undergone 11 surgeries to expand her jaw. Throughout it all, Doernbecher has retained a special place in Elle’s heart — so eight years ago, she decided to start giving back to the place that has done so much for her.
This is the story of Elle’s philanthropy, in her own words.
When did you first have the idea to raise money for Doernbecher?
I was 6 at the time, and some kids in my cul-de-sac decided to set up a lemonade stand. I thought, “Instead of spending the money I make, I want to give it to Doernbecher so they can buy a stuffed animal for another little kid like me.” There were seven kids helping out with the stand, and we made $7 that day. So that first year, I ended up raising $1 for Doernbecher. I made sure to give it to them on my next visit.
After that, you moved your lemonade stand downtown. How did that come about?
I knew I needed to be in a place where more people would see the stand, and my mom has an office right downtown in Silverton. There’s a big festival every year with a parade, so I said, “Let’s set up the stand right by the parade and see how it goes.” That year, I made $300, which was a huge increase from the previous year!
It’s really snowballed from there, hasn’t it?
Yes, those first few years not many people knew about what I was doing. But I was featured in the newspaper and on the radio, and that helped create awareness. Now there are people who come back year after year, and we’ve gotten some local businesses to match my donations. My parents match whatever the stand brings in as well. Since I’ve started fundraising, we’ve raised around $12,500. I’m really proud of that number.
And you’ve expanded beyond lemonade, too.
Yeah, about three years ago, we were driving past this giant oak tree that was covered with a plant I didn’t recognize. I asked my dad what it was, and he said it was mistletoe. “Like the stuff you hang in your house?” I asked. My dad used to sell mistletoe when he was a kid so he could buy Christmas presents for his family — and that gave me the idea to sell it at our town’s annual tree lighting ceremony. At the time, there weren’t any vendors selling anything, so I was the first. It’s become quite an event now.
Above: Elle and sister Cora after a day of harvesting mistletoe to sell during Silverton's annual tree lighting ceremony
How have your fundraising efforts been received by the community?
They’ve been great. It seems like everyone who stops by knows someone who’s been touched by Doernbecher in some way. It’s really nice to sit and listen to all their stories.
Why do you feel like it’s so important to support Doernbecher?
Because they do so many great things to help kids like me. And they’ve never been like, “Oh, here’s another patient.” They make you feel special and cared for. I can’t tell you how many doctors and nurses have told me, “You got this. You can do it!”
Besides that, they do so many fun things to make the hospital a better place for kids. They have a whole room filled with games and toys, people playing music, therapy animals, arts and crafts, even bingo games you can play right from your bed. There were some visits where I was actually kind of sad to leave!
What do you hope that the money you raise will do for other kids?
I hope that they can use it to develop new treatments and help find a cure for diseases like cancer. I also hope they can use it to continue hiring great people to work there. And of course, stuffed animals are always awesome!
I know that last year, some of my donation went toward building the Rood Family Pavilion, so that families can have a place to stay when their child is in the hospital. That means a lot to me, because when I was a baby in the NICU, my parents stayed in an RV in the Doernbecher parking lot. It’s nice to know there are better options now.
What would you tell someone who’s considering raising funds for Doernbecher?
I’d say go for it, because you’ve got an opportunity to make a kid’s day! I’d also recommend setting up somewhere other than a quiet cul-de-sac. Advertise the heck out of it, and keep it simple.
When you’re not raising money for Doernbecher, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love riding my horse, Trooper, I like to read, and I play a ton of sports. This year I’m on the volleyball and swim team. I also play guitar. Oh, and I’ve got a big lip sync battle coming up at school, so I’ve been busy practicing for that.
Any words of advice for kids who are facing treatment at Doernbecher?
Yes! Try not to be scared — Doernbecher is a great hospital. It’s a happy, joyful place with a staff that really cares about you.