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Help for children's hospice

Mario Toneguzzi - For Neighbours

Thursday, June 09, 2005 - Kira Pauline Bekker lived only a short time in this world.

At the age of 19 months, the beautiful little girl with curly dark hair, a soft fair complexion and a fighting constitution, died because of a rare and terminal degenerative condition that affected her brain.

But the baby's memory and legacy is sure to last a long time in this community as her story touched the hearts and souls of many Calgarians in the past year.

Once again, Kira's family and friends are organizing a fundraising event in honour of the child who was born June 6, 2003, and passed away Jan. 4, 2005.

The second annual Kira's Day hopes to build on the phenomenal first fundraising event last year, which raised a whopping $50,000 for the Alberta Children's Hospital.

"Our goal is to raise money for the children's hospital. And this year we've decided to support the children's hospice," says Kira's mother Jennifer Bekker.

"All money raised this year will go to funding the new plan for a pediatric hospice in Calgary. That's something we feel close to because there wasn't that service available when Kira was with us. But if it was available that's something that we probably would have used."

In December of 2003, doctors gave baby Kira only a few weeks to live after being diagnosed with Leigh's disease -- falling into the category of mitochondrial diseases that result from the body's inability to produce energy at the cell level. But the baby with the fighting spirit defied the odds.

She lived at home for almost a year under palliative care and surrounded by the love of her mother Jennifer, father Paul and brother Lucas.

On the same day as her first birthday, Kira, her family and friends gathered to celebrate the day and to also raise money for the Alberta Children's Hospital. A goal of $5,000 was set through a golf tournament and silent auction. Incredibly, 10 times that amount was raised.

The total simply shocked the family.

"Absolutely. The different groups of people that gave us support. We were overwhelmed with the generosity of our family and friends," says Jennifer. "The way people responded we thought was a reflection of how Kira had touched their lives and their hearts and how much people cared.

"Equally as surprising were the strangers. Companies supported us by making donations or donations to our silent auction. That was really touching how we felt Kira's story had an impact on people."

Bekker says that through the money raised last year the hospital's first Dual Beam Spectrophotometer was purchased -- "an important piece of equipment that will help diagnose children like Kira."

Money was also used to support the work of the hospital's palliative care and grief support services.

This year's Kira's Day Casino and Charity Auction is scheduled for Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. at the Strathcona Community Centre, 277 Strathcona Dr. S.W. Tickets are $25. To purchase tickets, e-mail kirasday@shaw.ca or call Lesley at 403-257-4465.

Organizers of the fun casino are also getting local companies to sponsor casino tables at $500 each.

Kira beat the odds her whole life. See if you can do it for one night. Those sentences appear on the young girl's website which chronicles her battle over 19 months. Her website is www.members.shaw.ca/kirasday.

Kira will always remain in the hearts of the many people who loved her and those who heard her story. The fundraising event in her name is expected to continue to impact people for quite some time.

"It is a tribute to Kira," says Jennifer. "It's a way that we help to remember her and in her name do good things that will help other children in Alberta."

mtoneguzzi@theherald.canwest.com

© The Calgary Herald 2005