Otto Family Honoured For Raising $1 Million For Roger Neilson House

By Charlie Senack

The Roger Neilson House has surpassed their longtime goal of raising $10 million dollars, and a large portion of that is thanks to a Barrhaven Family.

For 14 years, Dean and Jeanine Otto have been putting on the annual Maddy’s Gala event in honour of their daughter Maddy, who passed away suddenly from a brain tumour on July 17, 2007. She was only five years old.

Since then, the Ottos have been doing everything they can to give back to the Roger Neilson house which acted as an anchor following Maddy’s passing. During an outdoor ceremony on July 23, they were recognized for raising a million dollars — more than any other family.

“It is a major accomplishment,” said Dean Otto, Maddy’s father. “We always thought if we raised $10,000 in 10 years, that would be great, but we crushed that in the first year. Just the feeling of being able to give back and helping other families going through a similar tragedy, is really rewarding.”

The Otto family was at their cottage one summer day in July 2007 when Maddy had a seizure. She was rushed to CHEO where she was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. She was given 48 hours to live and passed away peacefully 47 hours later. Maddy’s final hours were spent at Roger Neilson House, located on the grounds of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

First opening in 2006, Roger Neilson House acts as a support system for families whose children require palliative care. They act to provide a sense of comfort and stability during a time of need.

While Maddy’s stay there only lasted two days, the Ottos continued visiting the facility for over two years after to receive bereavement counselling. They met other families who went through the same unimaginable experience as they did, and wanted to give back.

“(Maddys Gala) started out as such a small gala with 100 people where we pretty much knew everybody, and within the last five years it has gone into sponsorships and people buying tables,” said Jeanine Otto.

The event is regularly attended by many past and present Ottawa Senators hockey players, and families who have relied on Roger Neilson House in the past. The Ottos reached their $1 million goal in the midst of a pandemic, and at a time when last year’s event had to be cancelled due to the virus.

Now as the country starts to opening up, they hope an event of some kind can be held again next winter.

“We hope we are able to do it,” said Dean. “If not a gala, maybe we need to pivot and do something else like a golf tournament or something like that.”

“We need to come up with something because people have been asking us,” said Jeanine. “Right now it seems having a gathering in a room with 500 people just does not seem like the time yet for the safety of everybody.”

No matter how the pandemic alters future events, the Ottos say nothing will get in the way of raising money for a cause close to their heart.

“Such a negative turned into such a positive,” said Jeanine. “For a little five-year-old, her spirit still lives on and there are people who didn’t even know Maddy who talk about Maddy.”

“Maddy was so outgoing and was so vibrant, and brought a smile to everybody she met. It didn’t matter if they were five or 65,” added Dean. “We always wanted to give back before Maddy passed away, we just did not know how.”