This is the story of how the Rattrays’ young son, Will “Iron Will” Rattray, inspired our SaskTel family to raise that incredible amount. Desiree and her family experienced a tragedy that no family should have to endure—and with the help of her SaskTel co-workers, they turned her family’s loss into something that will benefit Saskatchewan children & families for generations.
On August 1, 2012, Will Rattray was born to Desiree & Jason Rattray. A delightful, vibrant boy, he was born with laryngomalacia and tracheomalacia. His larynx and trachea were underdeveloped, so his throat cartilage kept collapsing, making it difficult for Will to breathe and eat.
Will endured multiple surgeries and spent countless weeks in hospital. Though he had made excellent progress, Will died of unexpected heart failure on August 28th, 2013. His family was devastated.
In his short life, Will stole many hearts, including the nurses and doctors who cared for him. He had a bright personality, long eyelashes, and a huge smile that captivated everyone. He was a little flirt and loved it when nurses and therapists paid him attention. He had many nicknames like Ninja Will and William the Conqueror, but the one that stuck was Iron Will, which speaks to his strength of character.
A 19-year SaskTel employee, Desiree saw how Will’s spirit touched the hearts of her co-workers.
“After Will’s funeral, we wanted to do something in his memory. Our initial thought was let’s ask for donations to the Children’s Hospital Foundation in lieu of flowers,” she said.
Then Desiree’s co-workers decided to launch an even bigger tribute. Michelle Gray, Renee Pestyk, Tanya Adair, and Tarilynn Tymiak teamed up with Desiree’s neighbour, Melissa Jackson, to organize an Iron Will fundraising event.
In a pivotal moment, the Iron Will committee were introduced to a local clothing business, 22Fresh Apparel. 22Fresh immediately jumped onboard and released special Iron Will hoodies, T-shirts, and onesies for the fundraiser. People snapped them up, buying over 1,000 items of clothing which raised a whopping $30,000.
“Some of our employees bought four different versions of the hoodies, so now they have closets full of Iron Will gear. Others sent us photos of them wearing Iron Will gear as they travelled the world… it’s like they were taking Will to all the places he would never be able to go,” says Desiree.
The first fundraiser was spectacularly successful and far overshot the committee’s ticket sales goal. So they turned the Iron Will Fundraiser into an annual celebration with an ambitious goal: to raise $300,000 for the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.
The committee held four successful fundraisers over four years. You couldn’t go near an Iron Will event without seeing 50-100 SaskTel staff, past and present, all volunteering, chipping in, and contributing prizes for silent auctions. The SaskTel Pioneersgave multiple generous cash donations, allowing the committee to buy hundreds of stuffed teddy bears, monkeys, giraffes, and moose and sell them at the events.
“After attending a fundraiser, my co-worker Susan was so touched that she committed to making and donating handmade quilts for the next year's auction. It was incredible,” says Desiree.
It takes an army to celebrate a special child. There were hundreds of co-workers, friends, and families who graciously helped along the way. Some of Iron Will’s biggest SaskTel champions were:
Desiree was deeply touched by all this love, but she wasn’t surprised.
“It’s the Saskatchewan way and the SaskTel way to help people at these times. We’re so lucky to work with people who hold you up in really hard times, it’s wonderful. A lot of people don’t have it that good. Some people go their whole lives and don’t get this community like you do at SaskTel. It’s part of the culture, part of the DNA, we just help each other out—and turn love and condolences into power,” says Desiree.
After five years of keeping Will’s memory alive, Desiree and friends proudly presented the cheque to the Jim Pattison Children’s Foundation Hospital.
"I hope that our tribute and efforts to honour Will’s legacy will not only help the hospital, but also challenge stigmas around death and grieving, to help people not be afraid to talk to people about who they’ve lost. To let them know it’s not taboo to speak their name again and that it really helps with the healing process," she says.
To honour Will’s legacy, the $300,000 donation will go towards the ear-nose-throat (ENT) exam room and ENT equipment which will help Saskatchewan kids for generations to come. It was a beautiful moment—and if Will could have been there, he would’ve had the biggest smile in the building.
If you’d like to help SK kids and support Will’s legacy, visit the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital Foundation.
To read more about the SaskTel employees that were part of the Iron Will Committee, read our latest Community Story Because of Will: Employee-Driven Campaign Creates Ripple Effect of Generosity Across the Province.
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