Michael Fessaha

Michael Fessaha and Paul Alofs
To look at him, Michael Fessaha is a regular kid – just turned 9, 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 is wise beyond its years.
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. Ms. Mack brought Michael together with Lisa Slater, a teacher at St. Albert Elementary Catholic School in Scarborough.
One day. Michael’s mother received a phone call at work. “A teacher from Michael’s school was on the phone,” explains Gaby, Michael’s Mom. “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: “I want to do something to help other kids who have lost their father or mother,” Michael explained. “I want to raise money for cancer research and give it to three hospitals in Toronto -- The Princess Margaret, because that was where my Dad was, Toronto General, because that is 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.”
Gaby was stuck for words. Through shaken speech, she asked, “My Mikey said that to you?”
“Yes,” came the teacher’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 Gaby.
With Mrs. Slater’s assistance, Michael created flyers that went home to parents, and Gaby 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, Gaby, Mrs. Slater and Ms. 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.
Ms. Slater made the appointment, and on Monday, March 2, a beaming Michael Fessaha marched into The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and was greeted by Paul Alofs, President and CEO of PMCF. “I wanted to deliver this cheque in person in memory of my Dad. He died from cancer,” Michael told Paul.
“I’m so glad you did, Michael,” said Alofs, accepting a cheque from Michael for $662.37.
“It’s because I get a day off school,” Michael admitted.
The President and CEO simply 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!”

Reviewed: October 2013