Five-year-old cancer survivor uses her creativity to design T-shirt for nonprofit Pinky Swear
This is a story from the heart— about a fanciful illustration, and the little girl who designed it.
"We felt we’d like to help bless some kids that are suffering from cancer," explains Joel Wiens, the founder and owner of WSI Sports in Eagan.
That little girl is five-year-old Amelia Khounthikoumane, a cancer survivor from Charlotte, North Carolina.
We met her on a Zoom interview with her mother, Michelle— where they talked about her illustration.
"Do you remember what it is?" Michelle asked.
"A rainbow!" Amelia smiled.
"What did the rainbow have on top of its head?"
"A horn? Making it what kind of rainbow?" Michelle asked.
"A unicorn rainbow!" Amelia giggled.
That rainbow, with a smiley-face unicorn, is now on hundreds of tee shirts being made at WSI.
"So it’s not screen printed, it’s not ironed on, it’s ink-dyed into the fabric," notes Heather Yule, a WSI apparel designer. "Yeah it’s really fun, it’s brightly colored. It’s nice, it’s going to help some families and it’s getting awareness out there."
"When we first saw this design, it was like wow!" exclaims Wiens. "It’s beautiful."
"We contacted Pinky Swear and mentioned to them that we’d love to come up with a collection for them," he says. "It’d be like a shirt and a mask we could donate to them. If they had one of the children involved in the cancer program that could help out, designing the shirt, we’ll bring that graphic to life."
Edina-based Pinky Swear Foundation is a nonprofit that helps provide financial and emotional support for families coping with childhood cancer.
"We’ve got Amelia, a very young child who has gone through something horrendous, that many adults can’t imagine going through, a cancer diagnosis," says Jake Leif, a social media and marketing specialist for Pinky Swear. "She’s come out on the other side and has put her beautiful skills to play."
In 2019, Amelia was diagnosed with a Stage 4 germ cell tumor— a rare form of childhood cancer.
Just a week after Pinky Swear contacted her family, she came up with her T-shirt and mask design.
"She had made this beautiful picture— and I became so emotional, I said ‘Amelia, that’s beautiful,’ and I had to walk away for a couple of minutes," Michelle recalls. "It caught me completely off guard how beautiful this picture was and how happy— she’s just amazing."
Wiens says WSI has donated about $6000 worth of shirts and facemasks with Amelia’s design on them, to Pinky Swear.
They’ll be sent out to foundation donors as a kind of thank you.
Wiens says he’s extending the donation project through mid-February, in honor of International Childhood Cancer Day on February 15th.
He adds all profits from online sales of the shirts and masks will also go to Pinky Swear— and that between $1000 and $2000 worth of merchandise has been sold on the company’s website.
"We’re just excited you know, if we can give that inspiration, smile and hope to these kids, that’s what it’s all about," Wiens says.
Mother and daughter say they’re only too happy to help.
"What do you think about all these people that love your shirt, love your design?" Michelle asked Amelia, who nodded.
"Good! That make your heart beat? Are we happy we’re helping other kids?"
"Uh-huh, yeah," Amelia replied, smiling.
The five-year-old says she’s still creating.
"I’m working on a card!’ she declared proudly.
And— something even more important.
Michelle says during Amelia’s two-year cancer fight— nearly half her life— she’s had to endure CT scans, chest x-rays, and blood work.
But after four rounds of intensive chemotherapy— totaling twenty-four days— this girl, artistic and brave, is on the mend.
"We are almost, almost two years out, and two years in remission, and so she’s doing great," Michelle beams. "She’s in gymnastics, she’s a typical kindergartner, she’s amazing."
You can find more information about Pinky Swear Foundation here.