Britney Colussi is raising funds for families in honour of her cousin.

Britney Colussi wears her heart on her sleeve, and she isn’t afraid to show it. Especially when it comes to her cousin, Michael.

“We’re the same age and he used to live across the street from me, so we have a close connection,” she says.

Michael, 24, was born with serious heart defects, is living with Down syndrome and has experienced severe nervous system complications meaning he can’t walk, talk or eat on his own.

“When he was born, doctors said he wouldn’t make it past his first birthday, so he’s been fighting his whole life,” she says.

The cousins love to spend time together, and their favourite activity is dancing.

“I’ll hold his hand and we sway back and forth. We’ll clap, give high fives and hugs and kisses. It’s hard to put it into words, but it’s the best feeling.”

Britney has been there through the hard times in Michael’s life.

“When I was 17-years-old, I was in the hospital room when Michael was revived. I stayed strong in the moment but in the waiting room I broke down. I looked up and saw a mother and daughter crying and I realized so many families are going through the same thing and experiencing the same pain.”

After this experience, Britney was inspired to help other families with seriously ill children in Michael’s honour.

In 2014, Britney became a RMHC Toronto volunteer. “I had the Saturday morning shift, which I loved, because I got to organize fun activities that families would be doing on a regular Saturday morning at home. I loved every second of it.”

In November 2015, Britney fundraised for RMHC Toronto and SickKids with a campaign called LivingStrongMD. She aimed to raise $3,000 and surpassed her goal, raising $9,000. In 2016 and 2017, she raised an impressive $11,000.

“I created LivingStrongMD to promote happiness and hope for families with seriously ill children. I used ‘LivingStrong’ because that’s what Michael has done his whole life, and MD for his initials because he is the reason for everything I do.”

On Oct. 5, 2018, Britney hosted a LivingStrongMD gala called “Little Steps Big Dreams” to help even more families at RMHC Toronto and SickKids.

“I didn’t think I could plan a gala, but I knew I needed to live strong myself. The gala had 240 attendees and raised $54,000, which is beyond what I imagined. It also raised awareness about the value of RMHC Toronto, which is important to me.”

Britney’s inspiration from Michael is taking LivingStrongMD even further. She wants to turn the campaign into its own initiative, creating programs to provide hope to families with seriously ill children.

“Michael is my strength, my hope and my love. So whatever LivingStrongMD ends up being, I’ll keep doing it in his honour.”

RMHC Toronto is thankful for generous donors like Britney, whose compassion and dedication makes it possible for us to keep families with seriously ill children together.

Learn more about LivingStrongMD.