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Community Life

Youth's life honored through toy drives

Cook Children's Hospital patients benefit from memory of Jacob Harper


Jacob Harper loved family, friends, and toys. Lots of toys.

That is why his mother, Melinda Sawyer, and friends, have held regular toy drives for patients at Cook Children's Hospital since his passing six years ago.

The Aledo McAnally Middle School student began spending increasingly more time at Cook Children's as a rare brain disease encroached on his childhood.

According to the National Institute of Health, Spinocerebellar Ataxia Type 8 occurs in only about one in 100,000 persons. Onset of the disease affects coordination, speech, and eye movement in patients generally aged 1 to 60.

It took Jacob's life at age 12.


Lego theme

The drives would vary in themes over the years, such as a pajama drive and the Jacob's Jurassic Toy Drive last Christmas. The current collection drive, continuing until April 29, is a Lego toy drive honoring what would have been Jacob's 18th birthday.

New, donated Lego toys will go to Cook Children's Child Life Program, which was helpful and compassionate with Jacob and his family during his treatments.

“They said Legos are what they run out of first,” Sawyer said. “The nurses were beyond excited when we told them what we were going to collect — especially for the older kids because they have their electronics and stuff, but Legos give them something to do.”

Sawyer described how drawing blood is particularly hard on a child and the child life specialists would provide a toy to play with or a therapy dog to pet to focus the child's attention elsewhere during the painful procedure.

“One time before drawing blood they brought a large doll that Jacob got to do a mock blood draw with,” she said. “He got to do the entire process on the doll so he could understand what they do and why they do it.They're incredible up there.”

Year-round toys

Donated toys are needed not only for Christmas but throughout the year for patients' birthday parties. Parents are allowed to choose gifts in the hospital's inventory to fit their child's wants and needs.

The toy drives in honor of Jacob are a reflection of how he lived his short life.

“Jacob was such a happy kid,” his mother reflected. “He loved to see other kids happy. That is the way he was.That was just part of his personality.”


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