When 14-year-old Sydney Maki was first diagnosed with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) syndrome after tearing her ACL playing soccer, it was what she calls the darkest time in her life. Her condition caused extreme, chronic pain and swelling that worsened at night, confining her to a wheelchair and taking her out of school in Grade 10 for several months.
Despite being away from her classmates during that time, Maki looked to her childhood best friend Aleckx (Veronika) Sharp to talk to about her diagnosis and the paralyzing neurological pain that took away her ability to walk.
“I would take your pain on myself in a heartbeat if it meant you wouldn’t have to suffer anymore,” Sharp had said to her.
Introduced as kids by family friends, Sharp and Maki instantly connected about their desire to travel and quickly became close, frequently spending time at each other’s houses growing up in Terrace. For years, they talked about going to Africa together to do missionary work and dreamed of ways they could make the world a better place.
“We were inseparable,” Maki said.
As they grew older they drifted apart but continued to care deeply for each other. In May 2017, Maki was working on finishing her clinical practicum at Northern Alberta Insitute of Technology (NAIT) in Edmonton when she received devastating news – Sharp had died suddenly at the age of 21. Over 200 people came to his celebration of life on July 17.
“My family was also grieving a lot because Aleckx spent a large amount of his childhood at our house,” Maki said. “They were very affected by it.”
Now 21-years old, Maki is the founder of a local non-profit organization that supports vulnerable children in the central region of Uganda called Ekitangaala Ministries. The organization in the Rakai district operates two schools and several programs to provide continual access to sustainable food, farming, and education for over 500 children and staff.
After learning about Sharp’s death, Maki soon discovered she was listed as one of the beneficiaries of Sharp’s life insurance. She was given $7,000 to support the work she was doing with Ekitangaala Ministries. Immediately Maki began thinking of ways to honour her friendship with Sharp and the gift given her.
“I wanted something for myself and others to remember [Aleckx] by and show how much he cared,” Maki said over the phone.
Maki decided to use the beneficiary to finish the new clinic and dedicate the facility to Sharp’s memory. The clinic building is already constructed and will be stocked and painted using Aleckx’s life insurance by the end of the summer this year.
“It was quite an expensive project and was the last item of our tenure goal,” Maki said. “It feels pretty amazing, it’s almost unbelievable.”
The clinic will provide testing and treatment for most common ailments including typhoid, malaria, fungal infections and wound treatment for over 600 children and 200 staff on campus. One doctor is now employed at the facility, and Maki said she hopes to expand the team as they work to manage the demand.
“Right now the nearest clinic is an hour and a half away to drive and people have to walk to get there,” Maki said. “I’ve seen people walk for hours and hours to get medical care.”
During her last trip to Uganda, she took a photo of the new clinic with herself standing in front holding a dedication plaque. In gold lettering, the plaque reads, ‘The Aleckx Sharp Memorial Clinic. In remembrance of ‘Ronnie’ 1996-2017.”
Sharp’s grandmother Sandra Dube did not know about the dedication of the new clinic at the time the photo was taken. Maki and her family have known Dube for the past 18 years, and Maki wanted to surprise her with the news.
When Maki returned to Terrace on Feb. 10, she developed the photo of the building’s exterior with the plaque and placed it in a brown frame. While at dinner with Dube at the White Spot Restaurant on Lakelse Avenue, she presented the photo and explained what Sharp had done for her.
“I cried because it was another way of Aleckx saying that he would always be there for Sydney,” Dube said. “I told her he would be so proud.”
Dube told her that before she ‘finishes her journey here,’ the 71-year old would have to make the trip to Rakai, Uganda to see the facility made possible with Sharp’s gift.
“God must have had a good reason for taking him,” Dube said. “[Aleckx] was just so loved.”
With her diploma as a laboratory technician secured, Maki said she hopes to apply the methods and techniques she learned in Edmonton to the Aleckx Sharp Memorial Clinic to better help serve the children at Ekitangaala Ministries in Uganda.