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Girl, 7, sells lemonade to pay for brain surgery

Heartbreaking: Liza Scott is inspiring millions with her bravery, while her story also inspires outrage at the costs of health care in the U.S.
/ Source: TODAY

A little girl's resolve to sell lemonade to pay for her own brain cancer treatment is inspiring people around the world while also shining a spotlight on the harsh realities of the U.S. health care system.

When Liza Scott learned she needed to have brain surgery, the 7-year-old faced this news with pragmatism: She wanted to sell lemonade to help pay for it.

“She just said she wanted to go to the bakery and start selling lemonade to help her get her surgeries,” mom Elizabeth Scott, 41, who works at her family-owned Savage’s Bakery in Homewood, Alabama, told TODAY Parents. “I just said, ‘Well that’s fine. You can go set up your lemonade stand,’ not really thinking it would amount to much.”

Scott felt floored by the response. Liza earned about $15,000 in cash from her stand at Savage’s and nearly $300,000 from a Mighty Cause page.

“It just keeps pouring in,” Scott said. “That’s just an unbelievable amount of love and support. There aren’t even words. It’s hard to wrap your head around it.”

Liza Scott, 7, is selling lemonade to raise money for costs associated with her brain surgery.Courtesy Elizabeth Scott

What seemed like a bad dream was a serious symptom

About a month ago, Scott heard Liza gasping for air at 3 .m., but Scott easily roused Liza and thought maybe the girl had a nightmare. But more episodes — which turned out to be seizures — followed.

“With more testing, they determined it was not just irregular brain activity, that there was actually something more serious,” Scott explained.

Liza, 7, set up her lemonade stand in her family's store, Savage's Bakery. Many patrons and community members flocked to her stand and her online fundraiser to help her pay for her surgical expenses. Courtesy Elizabeth Scott

Liza has three malformations in her brain: a schizencephaly, a parietal arteriovenous malformation and a dural arteriovenous fistula. The first is a cleft in the brain likely from when the brain didn’t close up properly; the second a bundle of blood vessels; and the last invovles faulty connections between a vein and an artery.

“They’re not certain if the seizures come from all of them,” Scott said. “We won’t know more until we treat the vascular malformations, which are the two we can do a surgery on.”

Very few doctors can perform the surgeries that Liza needs, so she will have to travel for her surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. Scott’s insurance and secondary insurance will cover most of the costs, but there will still be out-of-pocket medical expenses as well as travel costs. That’s why Liza wanted to pitch in.

“She’ll have ongoing medical care for years because she’ll have to have MRIs and angiograms, and medication for the long haul,” Scott said. “We have a long road ahead but we’re going to fight it and do what we have to do to make sure we stay well.”

While Liza only charged a quarter for a glass of lemonade, it seems most customers gave her a little extra. She raised about $15,000 in cash. Courtesy Elizabeth Scott

Scott had built Liza a lemonade stand for her to sell lemonade over the summer and Liza put it up in the store, selling the drink for 25 cents a glass. Scott set up a Mighty Cause page for those who wanted to donate but didn’t have cash with them. The family feel stunned by the outpouring of support.

“We’re excited for her and we’re sharing her success with her but we also want this to be a learning opportunity to understand grace and kindness,” Scott said. “She definitely feels special.”

Crowdsourcing for medical care

Fundraising for medical expenses has become more and more common on crowdfunding sites, says Allison Sesso, executive director of RIP Medical Debt, an organization that buys people’s medical debt and forgives it.

“GoFundMe has said that one in three of their fundraisers — that’s a huge percentage — is for medical bills,” Sesso told TODAY Parents. “The reality is most people fail to make what they're trying to make.”

She says that crowd sourcing to cover health care costs is “uniquely American” and that the COVID-19 pandemic is just worsening Americans' need for extra money to pay for medical care.

“It’s a trend that has been increasing,” she said. “Unfortunately, the friends and family are increasing unable to make as much of a donation because everyone’s financially impacted.”

While RIP Medical Debt tries to help as many people as they can, she hopes one day her organization isn’t needed.

“We will continue to help people as much as we can, through donations and helping people get rid of their medical debt. We would rather this did not exist in the world,” she said. “We would rather there be a systemic, large scale solution that addresses the underlying problem.”

“She’d rather focus on selling lemonade or playing or just being a kid."

On March 8, Liza will undergo surgery and stay in Boston for about two weeks. While both mom and daughter are scared, Liza often forgets while she’s busy playing.

“She’d rather focus on selling lemonade or playing or just being a kid. She’s definitely nervous,” Scott said. “She would prefer not to go to Boston and not to have surgery. So that’s been hard to stomach as a mom because surgery is life-saving for her. It’s not elective.”

Scott says that some of the extra money they raised might go to Liza’s ongoing care, but they do want to help other families who need financial help with their child's medical care.

“Liza loves to help others,” Scott said. "We would love to be able to help other families in our shoes — once we’re past the big hurdles."