THORNBURY >> To look at 8-year-old Madilyn “Maddi” Raimondo today, with her dancing feet, glistening blond curls and sparkling eyes, it is difficult to believe that just three-and-a-half years ago, the third-grader was fighting for her life in Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia after a traumatic accident that occurred while vacationing with her family.

In April 2014, Maddi accompanied her mother Jenny, father Scott, and sisters Sammi and Ella to Isla Mujeres, Mexico, during Easter week. They joined Scott’s parents, John and Betty Raimondo of Newtown Square, at the vacation destination, along with some other extended family members. On Easter Sunday, the final full day of their vacation, the family all went out for dinner. At the rooftop restaurant, as the family took photos with the beautiful sunset in the background, Maddi, who was 5 at the time, lost her balance and plunged two stories down to the cement below right before the family’s eyes.

With no hospital on the island, the family was forced to take an unconscious Maddi themselves onto a ferry back to the mainland. Two ambulance rides later, at a hospital in Cancun, with their daughter screaming in pain, Scott and Jenny were confronted with a language barrier and feared signing consent for her surgery there. Instead, they called back home and, in a team effort, friends, family and CHOP staff quickly organized and mobilized a medical transport, flying Maddi straight to CHOP. A full 36 long hours later, Maddi was met at CHOP’s Trauma E.R. by a medical team of 20 doctors, nurses and specialists who were waiting for her arrival.

“The relief and comfort of seeing one of this country’s best pediatric trauma teams waiting to receive Maddi, although a terrifying sight, was so overwhelming and yet so full of protection and safety,” said Jenny. “A traumatic accident like this is life changing. No one person involved is prepared for it. The only thing those involved in a tragic accident are sure of is that in one instant they all became part of one horrific journey.”

Maddi’s injuries were gravely serious. Jenny said that by the time they reached CHOP, her head had swelled to three times its actual size. She had seven skull fractures, two brain bleeds, one on each side of her head, two fractured vertebrae and a broken, split femur bone. The young patient had rods put into her legs, which in a later surgery had to be removed. Her face had darkened from all of the bleeding. She spent 12 days in CHOP’s Trauma Unit. In addition to surgeries and therapies in the hospital, she was immobilized for six months at home while she healed and worked toward recovery.

“Maddi was a shell of her former self,” Jenny explained. “It took a very long time for her to come back and she is still having issues. Luckily, we are blessed with a wonderfully supportive family and a strong community who in Maddi’s time of healing, not only surrounded her with love and encouragement, but with a plethora of arts and crafts, reading books, paints, puzzles and cards — all things that helped her feel normal and keep busy.”

It was through these little items, brought to her by family, friends and visitors, that Maddi reconnected and rebonded with those in her life. For hours during her recovery, Maddi and her sisters Sammi, 13, and Ella, 9, and other friends and relatives would color, paint nails, draw and make sand art to substitute for playing tag, swimming and other activities that Maddi was unable to do. The quiet activities were also conducive to conversations, which many times led to a therapeutic, open expression of feelings.

“Her sisters and I would climb into bed with Maddi and color for hours,” Jenny remembered. “We treasured this together time.”

Scott and Jenny Raimondo were so incredibly grateful to CHOP for saving their daughter’s life that they wanted to give back in some way. Jenny remarked that they also had their eyes opened widely to what families go through in medical emergencies like theirs and realized how so many small gestures of support helped in a big way.

“We wanted to forever pay forward the blessings we received during our time of need so we created ‘Maddi’s Bag,’” Jenny, a former cognitive therapist and currently a stay-at-home mom, said.

The family decided to make bags and fill them with crafts, markers, crayons, coloring books and games for patients and their company to use as distraction, therapy and entertainment during their hospital stays. Jenny stated that making the bags also gave Maddi something to do, together with the family that made her feel good. The Raimondos wanted the bags to go specifically to the children in the Trauma Unit where Maddi was treated.

The folks at CHOP said that they would distribute the comfort bags and if the Raimondos could raise the funds for them, they would proudly display Maddi’s name on the bags. Jenny started immediately raising money to help the hospital purchase these bags, emblazoned with “Compliments of Maddi,” as well as spearheading the effort to fill them. From neighborhood kid lemonade stands to school fundraisers, Jenny rallied donations to continue her promise to give back to the hospital that gave so much to Maddi. She wanted every child admitted to the unit to receive a drawstring comfort bag, loaded with age-appropriate activities to ease and minimize stress to new young patients and families.

Local businesses, schools, scout troops and other organizations help to fill the bags by sponsoring collection bins at their sites. Recently SAP in Newtown Square and Kicks Academy of Dance in Glen Mills, where Maddi takes dance lessons, filled bins for the project. The Raimondos collect the items and then every year, during Easter week, the anniversary of the accident, the family takes the items down to CHOP to fill the bags. They refer to this special spring day as “The Big Drop-off.” Last year, they carted 27 bins to the hospital.

In addition to supplying the comfort bags, the Maddi’s Bag charity sponsors the Trauma Nurse of the Month Star award which recognizes a valuable and dedicated CHOP clinician, doctor, nurse or therapist who plays a critical role in the recovery of a patient.

The Raimondos have created the a 501(c)(3) nonprofit “Maddi’s Bag” company that works directly with CHOP to acquire funds for the bags and filler items, as well as fund the Trauma staff award incentives.

In fall 2014, Jenny held a shopping event at her home in Glen Mills to kick off her fundraising. She had 17 vendors come out to display items for sale. About 100 people came and she raised $5,000 for the charity. The determined mom kept raising the bar. The following year, about 200 people came to the now-annual shopping event and she raised $10,000. Last year, she had about 250 shoppers attend and her event raised $17,000 for the cause. She said that her family and friends are hoping for the best event yet in 2017.

This year, the shopping event will take place from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2, at 62 L’Enfant Court in Glen Mills. The Raimondos move all of their furniture and possessions out of their home to make room for more than 30 vendors, including local boutiques. Admission is $10 and 100 percent of the funds collected go to the Maddi’s Bag charity. The event will feature cocktails and light fare. Everyone is welcome to a day of shopping and fun.

“We’re going to crush it this year,” Jenny said, smiling. “It’s a great day of shopping all under one roof, right in time for the holidays. The setting is cozy and it’s kid-friendly. We have raffles and good, friendly conversation. It’s a fundraiser, but it’s also a really fun day!”

Jenny explained that she has lots of help at the event. Her parents, Cheryl and Sam Long of Newtown Square, as well as Scott’s parents will be at the event to help, as will her sister-in-law Andi Piesetzkie of West Chester, and her good friends Suzie Gaffney of Kennett Square, Kristy Ebersole of Newtown Square, Kim Holt of Glen Mills and Molly Kelly of Glen Mills.

Jenny is a 1994 graduate of Marple Newtown High School and Scott is a 1991 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School. Scott owns the Kel-Mar Insurance agency in Exton. The couple has many ties to both Chester and Delaware counties

Maddi will most likely also be at the annual Maddi’s Bag shopping extravaganza. Although she attends Pennwood Elementary in West Chester now, and to the unknowing eye looks fully recovered, she is still facing many challenges like short-term memory loss and post-traumatic stress brought on by the sight and sound of ambulances and other emergency equipment, as well as other reminders of that fateful Easter Sunday in Mexico.

“It is our life goal to help comfort children when the unexpected confronts them traumatically,” explained Jenny. “We believe that where there is hope, there is faith and that where there is faith, miracles happen. Our faith in God has been deepened in the last few years and so has our faith in people. Everyone has been so generous. It’s amazing that so much good has come out of a situation that was so horrid.”

For more information on being a part of Maddi’s Bag fundraising or to attend the 2017 shopping event, call 610-715-2587, “like” the Maddi’s Bag Facebook page or visit

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