Olivia, with her rainbow hair and playhouse, hopes to pay it forward with Make-A-Wish

While she was in the hospital, Olivia Sexton, 4, helped design the playhouse that now is in her family home’s backyard

Olivia Sexton’s hair lets everyone know she is happy.

So, too, does her playhouse in the backyard.

“My favorite color is rainbow,” she says proudly.

And her favorite color is everywhere.

Olivia Sexton, 4, shows off her rainbow hair in front of her rainbow playhouse that she helped design. The playhouse was funded by Make-A-Wish. Olivia had a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow failure. Photo by Paul Valencia
Olivia Sexton, 4, shows off her rainbow hair in front of her rainbow playhouse that she helped design. The playhouse was funded by Make-A-Wish. Olivia had a bone marrow transplant after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow failure. Photo by Paul Valencia

A 4-year-old, Olivia has spent a lot of her life with doctors, at hospitals, at clinics.

These days, she spends a lot of her time at her home away from home, which is just a few feet outside the backdoor of the family home in Clark County.

That would be her playhouse. And not just any playhouse, but a house with a swing set, and a flower bed, and a window that she uses to offer drive-thru service for the imaginary cookies she bakes. Inside, a tiny bedroom, with a small bed, different colored pillows, and there are plenty of books, too. 

On the other side of the “house” part of the playhouse is a pirate ship. Ahoy!

And a slide, too, so she can make her escape.

Steps. Ladders. And enough portals that are sized perfectly for Olivia but a little bit of a tight fit for her parents.

This was Olivia’s dream house.

And Make-A-Wish made it come true. The foundation’s mission is to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. 

When she was a year old, Olivia was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia, a rare form of bone marrow failure. Without treatment, it is fatal.

In March of 2020, as the pandemic swept society, it was determined Olivia needed a bone marrow transplant. She had the procedure in June and spent six weeks in the hospital. It was during this time when Make-A-Wish came on board.

Olivia wanted a playhouse. And not just any playhouse. She wanted to help design it, as well. 

“Olivia was a big part of planning what she wanted it to look like,” said Olivia’s mom, Lori Sexton. “She spent a lot of time in the hospital, but she could think about that instead of treatment.

“You don’t understand what an impact it makes until you experience it,” Lori added. “It was hard in the hospital. Just being able to talk about (the playhouse), dream about it, for her it was a really good escape from everything else that was going on.”

There is a sign outside the entrance that says Olivia’s Rainbowtastic Playhouse, a nice touch to this backyard masterpiece. 

The playhouse was completed in October. 

Olivia Sexton loves taking care of her flowers outside of her playhouse. It was her wish to have a play structure in her backyard. Make-A-Wish made it a reality. Photo by Paul Valencia
Olivia Sexton loves taking care of her flowers outside of her playhouse. It was her wish to have a play structure in her backyard. Make-A-Wish made it a reality. Photo by Paul Valencia

As spring is about to turn into summer, Olivia is spending even more time in her playhouse. And she’s not done with the creative process. She and her parents, Lori and Michael, continue to work on the paint job. One side looks complete, with those rainbow colors.

Now Olivia and her family are paying it forward. Olivia is an ambassador for Make-A-Wish for the Portland and Southwest Washington region, raising funds for the charity in hopes of being able to grant wishes for other children in need. In all, there are more than 100 children in the area waiting to have their wishes granted, according to the foundation.

Olivia was the team captain for a virtual event, raising funds for Olivia’s Rainbowtastic Walkers. The walking event is over, but the link for the fundraiser will remain open through the end of June. Plus, Olivia and her family will have other fundraising opportunities throughout the year. 

“She wants them to get their stuff, too,” Lori said, referring to other children’s wishes.

In person, Olivia is quiet. Wouldn’t even know she is kind of a big deal on social media. It all started with her hair.

With the bone marrow transplant, she also had to undergo chemotherapy treatment. (While many people associate chemotherapy with cancer, Lori said it is important to note that Olivia does not have cancer.) Among the side effects of chemotherapy, though, is a loss of hair.

“At 3 years old, she was in love with her hair,” Lori wrote in a note explaining Olivia’s journey. “She was crushed by the idea of losing it.”

Mom came up with an idea: Before it went away, how about Olivia pick a color? Her hair could become any color. 

Olivia wanted, yes, rainbow colors.

Interestingly enough, last spring, there were no hair salons open. Lori had never done anything like that. But mom found a bunch of different colors and gave it a shot.

“I was shocked at how good it had turned out,” Lori said.

She took some photos and shared them on Facebook. The post received more than 28,000 shares.

Lori had also made a page for Olivia, to give family and friends an update on the battle with SAA. Her followers went from a few dozen people to more than 30,000. 

“It was never my intent for Olivia to go viral, but it has been wonderful in so many ways,” Lori said. 

The family’s support group grew, but also, other parents of children with aplastic anemia were able to connect with Lori. They were able to share their experiences. 

The Sexton family used this new-found “fame” for good, spreading the word about important organizations. That would include Be The Match, a bone marrow registry to help find donors for patients in need of a transplant.

Also, the American Red Cross. In Olivia’s journey, she received 99 blood transfusions.

And, of course, Make-A-Wish.

To donate to her walker team, go here: www.oregon.wish.org/Olivia 

And her main fundraising page is here: http://site.wish.org/goto/Olivia2021

As far as Olivia, Lori says she is doing great, coming up on a year since the transplant. 

“Olivia will be monitored for life,” Lori said. “Her journey is far from over. But despite it all, I feel confident that she is going to continue to grow and thrive.”For updates on Olivia’s journey, go here: https://www.facebook.com/oliviasrainbowtasticlife/

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