A few weeks short of her 12th birthday, Amber started experiencing severe headaches and fevers.
When she lost control of the right side of her body, she was flown to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Kids, where she was diagnosed with subdural empyema — a severe sinus infection that caused fluid to build up in her brain.
Amber was put in an induced coma, and the left half of her skull removed so the fluid could be washed away.
“When I first woke up, I wasn't able to talk fully yet,” she said. “I kind of looked at my parents. They just looked at each other and said 'We have to tell her what's going on.' I had no idea where I was. I didn't know what happened.”
After several months of hospitalization, physiotherapy and speech therapy, and five surgeries — including one where a plastic prosthesis was inserted where her skull used to be — Amber's life is pretty well back to normal.
And for that, her mom, Shelley Mayer, is grateful.
“I feel I owe a huge, huge thank you to Sick Kids, because without them, I wouldn't be able to enjoy Amber graduating this year,” she said.
Amber will pull double duty Aug. 14, during Dairy Queen's Miracle Treat Day, a fundraiser that's brought in $3.3 million for Sick Kids since 1984.
Not only will she be preparing ice cream alongside her fellow Chelmsford Dairy Queen employees, she'll be acting as a Sick Kids ambassador. “I think it's awesome,” Amber said. “I'm so happy DQ does something like that.”
During Miracle Treat Day, 100 per cent of the proceeds from every Blizzard treat sold is being donated to Sick Kids hospital. In Sudbury, participating Dairy Queens include the Chelmsford, Val Caron, Kingsway, Lorne, Lasalle and Regent locations.
Sick Kids also holds a special place in Chelmsford Dairy Queen owner/operator Jennifer Mallette's heart.
When her brother, Derek, was a toddler, he contracted encephalitis, and was treated at Sick Kids. Although he suffered brain damage, Mallette said she's grateful her brother is alive.
“The fact that they've progressed in the past 40 years to save a life like Amber's, and have her come back to her normal routine, work a job, and be a typical teenager, is phenomenal,” she said. “That is a miracle in itself.”
On its own, the Chelmsford Dairy Queen has brought in between $6,000 and $10,000 a year for Sick Kids during Miracle Treat Day.
Those funds are incredibly important, Mallette said. “That $10,000 that we raised at our store could have bought a machine that kept Amber alive,” she said.
Did you know?
Last year, Toronto's Sick Kids hospital treated 1,257 patients from Northern Ontario.