When Brianna Bourgeois was pregnant, her unborn son was overly active. She could feel his kicks and his body wiggle.

When those movements stopped, Bourgeois knew something was wrong.

Bourgeois and her husband, Rick, went to the St. Mary’s Family Birthing Center in Lewiston, and they were quickly taken to The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland, where Bourgeois gave birth to her first child, RJ.

RJ was born with hydrops fetalis, a life-threatening condition in which a fetus or newborn has an abnormal buildup of fluids.

RJ’s parents were told that had they waited another day to go to the hospital, their son might not have been born alive.

RJ spent eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, before he was able to go home.

Brianna Bourgeois was released from the hospital and, rather than having to drive back and forth from her home in Greene, she and her husband were able to stay at the nearby Ronald McDonald House.

To say thank you, RJ and his parents have delivered homemade cookies to the staff at Barbara Bush and the Ronald McDonald house at Christmastime every year since RJ was born.

Until this year.

“We decided we wanted to do something bigger this year,” Brianna Bourgeois said.

“I felt like the kids in the hospital would like nice toys,” said RJ, now 6.

RJ did chores to raise money to buy those toys. He helped his dad scrape paint, helped his mom with yard work and helped his 2-year-old sister, Sophie, clean her room.

He raised $35 in six months.

Family friends, grandparents, neighbors and his dad’s co-workers heard about RJ’s efforts and decided to chip in.

RJ approached Officer Joe Philippon of the Lewiston Police Department for a donation, and Philippon handed RJ some money.

“I asked nicely,” said RJ, a kindergartner at Greene Central School.

By the time RJ was finished, his $35 grew to $4,100.

“We were not expecting that at all,” Brianna Bourgeois said. “Everyone has been incredibly generous.”

The Bourgeois family hit the Black Friday sales at 6:45 a.m. and took advantage of the Cyber Week deals.

“I don’t think I paid full price for a single thing here,” Brianna Bourgeois said.

The toys fill the family’s living room. Rick Bourgeois said he was surprised at how many toys can be bought with $500.

“My truck was full,” he said. “I had to drive home, unload and drive back to pick up more.”

Children at The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital will receive toys, teenagers will be given gift cards, parents will get care packages, and the staffs at Barbara Bush and the Ronald McDonald House will get cookies. The family made 1,000 cookies to give away.

“They do not get thanked as much as they should,” Brianna Bourgeois said of nurses and other care providers.

RJ is back to being overly active.

“He has a blue belt in karate, loves to run 5Ks with his dad and excels in school,” his mother said.

RJ’s nickname is “NICU Ninja.”

“I’m a real ninja at home,” RJ said.

RJ will take off his ninja suit Saturday and put on an elf costume, the outfit he will wear as he delivers cookies to the Ronald McDonald House with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

“This project has consumed our life for the last couple of months,” Brianna Bourgeois said. “It has been a really great experience for us.”


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