Most kids like to take full advantage of their birthdays each year, asking for gifts and fun experiences with friends — and few would blame them, especially during a tough year like 2020.
But 12-year-old Canby resident Tomas Leischner is not most kids. Instead of asking for presents for himself this year, Tomas asked for stuffed animals — of which he then donated more than 100 to the Canby Police Department for sharing with other children who have survived trauma.
Tomas’ generous donation follows his own traumatic experience when his father suffered a serious heart attack while the family was on vacation.
“That was a major thing that really affected him,” said Canby Police Sgt. Tim Green. “And when his birthday came around, this is what he wanted to do. He felt it was important that kids had something to hold onto when bad stuff happens.”
His mother, Dana Leischner, agreed the experience had been “very traumatic” for the family.
“There had been no indication his heart was in such a state,” she said of her husband. “It was just totally shocking.”
He was Life Flighted to Vancouver, Wash., and while his initial prognosis was quite bleak (only 1.4 to 6% of such patients survive the first month, doctors told Dana), he went on to make a full recovery.
“It was really an astounding thing,” she said. “We’re very grateful. But I think it really opened the boys’ eyes to the reality that we’re all just people, and what they think of as stories on the news could happen to anyone.”
Dana said Tomas came up with the idea of donating stuff animals to the Canby Police Department for his birthday on Nov. 20.
“After going through it himself, I think he understands what it’s like to just be in this position where you’re scared,” she said. “And being able to provide something that is comfortable would be really helpful.”
Tomas got his friends to donate to the cause as well, and the Canby Kiwanis Thrift Store pitched in after receiving a call from Dana. She said her involvement in the project — besides helping create a meaningful birthday memory for her son — was influenced by her own experiences growing up in a law enforcement family.
“I saw the other side of things, of an officer coming home after seeing accidents,” she said. “It’s really traumatic and scary, and I just knew having something that you can offer to that children just makes a world of difference.”
Tomas is right, according to Green: Having a stuffed animal or another item of comfort can make a huge difference for children experiencing a traumatic episode — whether it be domestic violence, a medical issue, car accident or fire.
“Definitely,” Green said. “There can be those situations where police aren’t necessarily seen as the good guys, especially with domestic cases. Anything to help us bridge that gap a little bit, just bring a little comfort to the child; it makes a big difference.”
You may not have thought a plush stuffie would be standard issue for a sworn police officer alongside the badge, gun and handcuffs — but in Canby, it is.
“Our officers will keep one or two in the trunk of their car,” Green said. “When they come across something that seems warranted, they hand them out.”
This story will be updated.