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The donors: Kerry O’Reilly Wilks and Lloyd Wilks

The gift: Raising $1.5-million

The cause: Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation

Story continues below advertisement

The reason: To support the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit

Kerry O’Reilly Wilks was 33-weeks pregnant when she began feeling sick and headed to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital to see if she could take extra-strength Tylenol.

She thought it would be quick trip and didn’t even ask her husband, Lloyd Wilks, to wait. But a doctor told her she was in dire health and they would have to deliver her baby immediately. The doctor “looked at me and he said, ‘I’m going to be really direct with you,’” said Ms. O’Reilly Wilks, who now lives in Calgary, where she is chief legal officer at TransAlta Corp. “You and your baby are dying. You have about 60 minutes to live."

Ms. O’Reilly Wilks, who had a life-threatening condition known as HELLP, felt numb and started praying. Her son, Malachy, was born that night, weighing just more than three pounds. He was rushed to the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) and the Wilks were told he would be moved to St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto for further treatment.

Ms. O’Reilly Wilks was horrified when she saw St. Michael’s NICU. The equipment was outdated and the rooms were cramped. A nurse and a doctor offered reassurance and after three weeks of care, Ms. O’Reilly Wilks was so impressed that she donated 150 quilts to the unit and eventually joined the hospital’s board to champion the NICU. She and her husband also began hosting an annual fundraising event for the unit called Malachy’s Soiree. The fourth Soiree will be held on Sept. 26 in Toronto and Ms. O’Reilly Wilks said total proceeds from all the events will top $1.5-million. The money has helped fund new equipment which has already saved lives. The staff at the unit “are angels,” she said. “They are angels on earth.”

Ms. O’Reilly Wilks said her work with the hospital has been restorative. “It has truly healed me from my birth and NICU experience,” she said. As for Malachy: “He’s just a little, wild, crazy boy that lives to absolutely drive his older sister crazy.”

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