After their sister died awaiting a transplant, two girls sell lemonade to help kids like her

·4 min read
Myleigh Madsen, 9, and her sister Makayla Madsen, 7, run a lemonade stand outside their home in West Jordan, Utah, to raise money in honor of their sister, who died last year while awaiting a heart and kidney transplant. (Family photo)

Before her last birthday, Makenzie Madsen's family members pooled their money to get her a $200 snow-cone maker - an apt gift for a girl who had made the icy treats by hand and hawked them to her neighbors for four straight summers.

Makenzie never got to use it.

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Diagnosed with two heart defects at 14 months old, Makenzie got her first heart transplant a few months later. She had been waiting for a kidney and another heart for nearly a year when her organs began to shut down last July, said her mom, Monica Madsen. Makenzie, 14, had to be taken off the waiting list for donations, and she died the night she came home from the hospital.

Under a tree outside the family's house in West Jordan, Utah, about 14 miles south of Salt Lake City, Makenzie's younger sisters now run a lemonade stand in her honor. With each cake pop and cup of Country Time lemonade sold, 9-year-old Myleigh Madsen and 7-year-old Makayla Madsen raise money for a nonprofit organization that supports organ donation.

"It's humbling to see that my girls understand how important it is," Monica Madsen said. "And they don't want somebody else to have to lose someone they love."

The girls' project was first reported by television station KSL-TV and the Salt Lake Tribune.

With the first anniversary of Makenzie's death approaching, her parents and siblings talked about how they could mark the somber occasion. They remembered how Makenzie used to buy bags of ice at the store and flavor them with Kool-Aid mix in cherry, banana and other flavors. Then she would set up a foldable table outside, make a few posters and sell her snow cones for $1 each. She didn't particularly enjoy the snow cones herself, her mom said, but she loved watching people eat her creations.

Myleigh and Makayla decided to recreate their sister's snow-cone stand, but with lemonade, which seemed easier to make for a crowd. They wanted to buy a stand - like the one their family had planned to get Makenzie when she got out of the hospital - so they chipped in half the cost with money gotten from birthdays, Christmases and fulfilled chores of the past. When the girls got to choose the paint, Myleigh picked teal, Makenzie's favorite color, and Makayla decided on pink.

Monica Madsen posted in Facebook groups for the family's church and neighborhood to get the word out about the fundraiser. The girls' first day in business would be this past Saturday, she wrote.

When the lemonade stand opened in the afternoon, a chalkboard announced their main product. A paper sign advertised homemade Oreo and birthday cake-flavored cake pops for $1.50 each, and a Mason jar was set up for tips. On the corner of the table stood a framed photo of Makenzie posing by a stream.

Between neighbors who stopped by and friends who sent money through Venmo, Monica Madsen said her girls raised about $1,000 for Donor Connect, which seeks to recover organs and tissues for transplant in Utah and three other western states. Makenzie used to speak at the organization's symposiums, her mom said.

The need for organs is great. Although donations from deceased patients set a record in 2020 for the 10th straight year, demand far exceeds supply in the United States. More than 100,000 people nationwide are awaiting a transplant, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

While it's too late for a donation to help Makenzie, she lives on in her family's memories: Her love of roller coasters, camping in Arches National Park and using syringes to have water fights with her nurses. Makenzie dreamed of skydiving and becoming a cardiologist because, her mom said, she knew the pressure they were under.

But Myleigh remembers Makenzie for something particularly simple: "If we're playing and someone's left out," Myleigh said, "she would go comfort them."

Although the family plans to deliver the initial lemonade-stand funds to Donor Connect on the anniversary of Makenzie's death on July 13, Madsen said her girls plan to keep raising money for the organization on Saturdays throughout the summer.

But next month, Madsen said, they might switch to snow cones.

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