HOMEWOOD, Ala. – Liza Scott, 7, started a lemonade stand at her mom’s bakery last summer so she could buy some frills like toys and sequined high-heel shoes. The bouncy little girl is still in business months later, yet the money is going toward something entirely different: surgery on her brain.
Last month, doctors determined a series of seizures that Liza began suffering were caused by cerebral malformations that needed repair, said her mother, Elizabeth Scott. Always eager to help out and with an eye toward entrepreneurship after a childhood spent around a small business, the little girl volunteered to help raise money for her upcoming operation.
Located near the cash register of Savage's Bakery in suburban Birmingham, her stand of bright pink and yellow wooden crates offers lemonade for a quarter, plus other treats. But people are putting in a lot more as word spreads of her medical condition and her attitude.
“I’ve got a $20 bill, and a $50 bill and a $10 bill and a $5 bill and a $100 bill,” Liza said Tuesday as she counted donations from the morning.
Liza was still in the hospital after suffering two major seizures when she came up with the idea to help out with the stand, said her mom, who also has a preschool-age boy.
“I told her, ‘You don’t have to do that,’” Elizabeth Scott said. “There’s no expectation of her doing anything to help pay the bills. I’m a single mom, I take care of my kids on my own."
Yet Liza wanted to help, and she has. Her little stand has made more than $12,000 in a few days — nearly all through donations.
“She likes being part of the team. This is something she can really take ownership of,” Scott said.
While Liza’s story has warmed plenty of hearts, some are outraged over the idea that a child facing brain surgery would feel a need to raise funds for her own care. The story is yet another sign that the U.S. health system is broken beyond repair and driving families into bankruptcy, critics say.
Despite having good insurance through the popular bakery she runs with her father, Elizabeth Scott could quickly see that she was still going to be responsible for some "pretty exorbitant" expenses. So, she also set up an online fundraiser.
“Just one week in the hospital and the ambulance rides is more than my monthly salary, and that’s without the surgery and travel expenses," she said. "I can’t fund that by myself, and we have a business to support.”
Friends, family and others who have been touched by Liza’s story have already donated more than $300,000.
A bubbly little girl who likes Barbie dolls, dressing up — and lemonade — Liza hadn't shown any signs of major health problems until Jan. 30, her mom said.
“She had a massive seizure at 5 in the morning and it lasted like 45 minutes,” said Elizabeth Scott. Another one occurred hours later. It was a few days before tests revealed Liza had three malformations that were both causing the seizures and posing a risk of rupture that could lead to a stroke or other problems.
Now on medication, Liza was quickly accepted as a patient at Boston Children's Hospital, where a representative said Dr. Ed Smith, a neurosurgeon, and Dr. Darren Orbach, an interventional radiologist, will be part of a team set to operate Monday. The family will fly to Boston on Thursday, and Liza could need follow-up visits into her 30s, her mother said.
Liza said she enjoys helping with her stand, where she makes the lemonade and puts donations in a big jar. “It's better than just begging,” she said.
Temporarily out of school because of her condition, the girl is spending a lot of time at the bakery running the stand and playing with her dolls. A whirlwind of energy, she runs from one spot to the next, climbs atop a table in an empty room and swings upside down on a handrail as her mother speaks to a well-wisher.
In a quiet moment, Liza said she is trying not to think too much about what she called “my brain thingy.”
“I’m not worried, but I’m afraid,” she said.