Two little girls run a lemonade stand to raise money for organ donations in Utah
[June 16, 2021: Courtney Tanner]
Under the welcome shade of the maple tree on the corner of Countrywood Lane, the two girls carefully constructed their lemonade stand.
They’d painted the wood table in teal and pink stripes, hung up a list of prices at the front — next to a kindly suggestive jar marked “TIPS” — and then, for the finishing touch, added a photo of their older sister, Makenzie Madsen. From the frame, she grinned so wide you could see all of her teeth, just like the girls remember her always doing.
Above them, the branches were quite a bit taller than when Makenzie used to sit in the same spot every summer to sell her own creations — snow cones and cookies and even a banana cream pie that the neighbors here still talk about. “Oh, that chocolate crust,” one said. “So good.”
A few remembered going back to their houses to try to scrounge up enough change beneath the couch cushions to afford another slice.
On Saturday, they returned again. This time to honor Makenzie.
Two of her little sisters have taken over her favorite sidewalk business in her memory. And every quarter that landed on the counter, the girls decided to donate in the hopes that no other kid might die like her.
“We’re doing this so kids who need hearts, we can help them get it,” said Myleigh Madsen, age 9. Her younger sister, Makayla, 7, stood faithfully by her side, pouring cups of lemonade as customers lined up.
Makenzie — who everyone called “Mak ‘n Cheese” — died last year when she was 14 years old after waiting more than 300 days in the hospital for a heart and kidney transplant that never came.
Born with congenital heart disease, she had received a first transplant when she was 17 months old, said her mom, Monica Madsen. But as she grew older, the heart grew weaker. It failed on July 13, 2020.
“I just really miss her,” said Makayla shyly hiding behind her mom’s legs. “We used to make slime together. It was teal. That was her favorite color.”
That’s why the sisters picked that shade for their lemonade stand, the same color, too, as the tiny casket that Makenzie was buried in.
The girls spent their allowances and saved money from birthday cards to build the structure. No one in the family has been able to touch yet without crying the old folding table that Makenzie used to sit at when she did her own lemonade and desert sales, a ritual of childhood and a reminder that she didn’t get to grow up.
There were plenty of tears Saturday, too, as they stood in front of the home where she used to. But many smiled, as well, as they talked about her love for “The Greatest Showman” and tried to imitate Makenzie’s unique way of yelling: “Lemonade. Lemonade. Get your lemonade. It’s so cold. It’s so sweet.” Makenzie, who her family says could be really sassy, would roll her eyes dramatically when she said “so.”
Hearing their calls, one little boy pulled 50 cents worth of pennies, nickels and dimes out of his pockets. He downed the drink and then crushed the clear plastic cup with a satisfied, “Ah!” Others lined up for refills. One man said, “Oh, that’s good stuff!”
“Can we have two cups?” asked Patty Dixon with her husband, Mark. Six-year-old Priya Grant danced around in a tutu shouting, “Yum, yum, yum.”
By the end of the afternoon, Myleigh and Makayla tried to count how much they’d raised, but their mom had to help a little with the accounting and making sure people got their change. Still, some donated $20 and $50 to the cause. Myleigh’s eyes lit up when she said, “We got $200 from our uncle. We’re going to raise billions for Kenzie.”
Monica Madsen laughed. “Yeah, something like that.”
They’re giving the money to DonorConnect, a nonprofit that helps procure organs for transplant in Utah and the West. Currently, there are 10 kids in the state waiting for a heart like Makenzie was.
At least one person under the age of 17 here has been on the list for more than five years, said Dixie Madsen, the spokeswoman for DonorConnect.
“There’s just not enough organs for everyone who needs one,” she said, “and that’s often especially the case for kids.”
Altogether in Utah, 829 people of all ages are waiting for an organ transplant, including hearts, kidneys, livers and lungs.
Both Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health have reported doing more transplants in 2020 than the year before — despite the coronavirus pandemic delaying many surgeries. Intermountain did a record 222, up from 186 in 2019. The U. completed 233, an increase from 195. It’s still not keeping pace, said Madsen, who’s not related to Makenzie Madsen or her family.
A sign outside the lemonade stand, which will be open every Saturday this month, encouraged people to sign up to become donors at yesutah.org. The girls wrote it out in colorful markers.
“All proceeds go to organ donation awareness in honor of our sister Makenzie and all the donors. Say yes to organ donation. We love you Kenzie.”
Monica Madsen said Makenzie used to love baking treats — but hated eating them. She used to make them for all the doctors and nurses who took care of her, including many requests for extra banana cream pies. Makenzie’s favorite part, though, Monica said, was setting up outside with her snow cone machine just so she could talk to people walking by.
“She’d just be out there, chatting for hours, holding people hostage with her stories,” Monica said, laughing and wiping away tears.
The family tried to do the same Saturday, talking with neighbors about their favorite memories of Makenzie. Monica recalled how Makenzie read every “Junie B. Jones” book that she could get her hands on. Tyler Madsen, Makenzie’s dad, stared at the picture of Makenzie on the table, remembering the day it was taken after she rode on a helicopter.
“She looks so happy and not sick,” he said.
And the family’s youngest child, Paetyn, who’s 1 year old, they noted, loves to kiss the picture frame when it’s in the house.
Ashleigh Madsen, 23, Makenzie’s older sister, said she took Makenzie for the first ride when she bought her new Mazda. Her little sister scrolled through her playlist to pick a song and landed on “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne.
“We just jammed it full blast,” Ashleigh recalled with a laugh. “This tiny girl was rocking out.”
Her little brother, Braxton, 13, joked about how Makenzie always reminded him that she was older, “even though I was bigger than her.” The two shared a room and used to cut out paper snowflakes every Christmas to decorate it, which he brought to the hospital for her when she was waiting for a heart. There were stories about Makenzie squealing on a zip line, running through Disneyland to get to Splash Mountain and dressing up anyone who was willing as a princess.
Her two little sisters, Myleigh and Makayla, recounted how Makenzie used to chase them away from her lemonade stand, only to welcome them back so she could teach them how to operate it. They said they wished she was there Saturday.
They were having a hard time remembering all of her instructions, and they wanted to make her proud.
And as they talked, standing under the maple tree with the blue sky peeking through the leaves, that made everyone smile wide with all their teeth showing.
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