When Avery Sax discovered a year ago that she has a life-threatening malformation of blood vessels in her brain, it altered her life — in one way, for the better.
“I think everything’s completely changed for me,” the 11-year-old from Moorpark said. “I always think about everything as a good thing now. I used to think stuff was a bummer, and I was mad about stuff. Now I’m happy almost all the time. I know everything going on with me is not good, but I think of the bright side.”
The proof is in the enthusiasm of her voice, in the way she continues to pursue her favorite activities, and in her determination to create a recycling project that she hopes will improve a world in which her own future is uncertain.
“With my illness, I don’t know every morning when I wake up if I’ll be here at the end of the day, or tomorrow, or even next week,” Avery said. “But I do know the world will always be here, and other people will always be here, too. So I think we should just take care of the world, not for us but for future generations.”
To that end, the perky fifth-grader at Flory Academy of Sciences and Technology in Moorpark started a campaign called “Recycle With brAvery.” Originally a school project that began in February, Avery has expanded its reach and added a goal of collecting 100,000 cans and bottles by Earth Day on April 22.
The next collection drive is scheduled for March 30 and 31. Public contributions may be made at various rePlanet Recycling centers in the Conejo Valley, Simi Valley, Moorpark, Canoga Park and Irvine. Avery’s mother, Kimber Sax, said people should mention her daughter’s name when they drop off bottles and cans so their contributions will be put toward the cause by rePlanet, which has pledged to add an extra 10 percent to whatever is collected.
All of Avery’s efforts are the positive outgrowth of a frightening episode in March 2011, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage and was airlifted to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Her diagnosis? An arteriovenous malformation.
“The arteries and veins in certain areas of her brain are completely malformed, twisted, knotted up. Because of that, blood flow in several areas branches off and goes to dead ends and creates other problems,” Sax explained. “We don’t know exactly where the bleed came from, but at one point she had 100 aneurysms.”
While doctors at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center are hoping that radiation will reduce the size of the malformation over time, there remains the problem that she could bleed again at any time, Sax said.
Avery, who also attends Chabad of Moorpark, said that part of what sustains her is her faith. That was especially true at the beginning.
“I was scared and all about everything, because I didn’t know what was going on,” she said. “Before every treatment, I said all my prayers. I said the Shema.”
Avery said she has refused to let her condition get her down. Instead, it has made her closer to her family, synagogue and community. And rather than living in a bubble, she’s hitting life head on. That means continuing to pursue her passions: singing, hiking, sketching and more.
When her hair started to fall out in places, other girls her age might have despaired at shedding their long, gorgeous brown locks. Avery managed to see the positive in the situation:
“When I lost my hair, the first thing I said was, ‘Let’s go buy some new hats.’ ”
Avery has even managed to continue cheerleading for the football team of one of her two brothers, despite the fact that her head isn’t supposed to be exposed to the sun. As a solution, she wears a hat that a family friend custom-ordered for her.
Kimber Sax, a former chief operating officer of Los Angeles Jewish Publications Inc. (the predecessor to TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of The Journal), said community support has been incredibly helpful. Sax, a single, full-time parent and cancer survivor, left her job as a consultant when her daughter became ill.
“Our financial situation is very, very tight,” she said.
Money raised through “Recycle With brAvery” (braverynow.org) makes its way to the Sax family by way of the Talbert Family Foundation, which provides financial support to families dealing with catastrophic illnesses. Avery has been a Talbert kid since last year.
Still, Avery said her plans for “Recycle With brAvery” have greater aspirations than her own assistance. It’s more about empowering others — especially young people like herself — and cleaning up the planet.
“Just one can of something from one person really can make a difference,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think they can do it, because they’re just one person, but every single … person can make a difference in the world. It’s less landfills to fill up and it’s less trash and garbage around, and it makes the world a more beautiful, nicer place to be.”
Avery hit upon this particular idea after seeing an aunt raise enough money through recycling to take a trip to Tuscany.
While most of the proceeds will go to the Sax family, Avery wants to make sure that some of the money raised is passed on to others in need, as well.
“Everyone has always been trying to think of fundraisers for me. I think: Why just fund-raise for me? There are so many other things in the world to be worried about,” she said.
At school, most of her classmates were unaware of the severity of her condition until she told her story when she involved them in her recycling project. It was originally intended by Avery to benefit the school, but the principal insisted that the funds go to her family.
“Most don’t truly understand how serious her condition is. She doesn’t look or act different. To them, she acts normal, not sick.” said principal Tammy Herzog.
Herzog said the outgoing girl’s response to her condition has been inspirational.
“She exudes happiness and cheerfulness and has never let this get her down,” Herzog said. “Any time you see a child struggling with such a major illness, it makes you realize what’s important in life and … how much we have to be grateful for.”
And just how strong and hopeful a young person can be.
“Avery is absolutely an amazing child,” Sax said. “If you ask her how she feels, she says, ‘I’m going to be fine. I just know it.’ ”