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She’s polished her fingernails with a funky emerald green, and she sports a pixie hairdo and indigo-rimmed glasses. In her West Ashley bedroom, you’ll find horse posters and trophies, a princess crown, a magic kit, and shelves of books and notebooks containing her own stories. There’s a sign on the door proclaiming her love for Justin Bieber, and the space is guarded by “Bear,” a fat, furry hamster. By all appearances, Harper Drolet is an average American tween. Spend just a few minutes listening to the tale of this indomitable 11-year-old, though, and you’ll soon learn that she is anything but.
Since October 2009, Harper has been battling alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue cancer that landed her in MUSC Children’s Hospital for much of 2010. She’s braved a nine-hour surgery to remove a tumor on her foot, biopsies on her arm and throat, and 54 weeks of aggressive chemotherapy. She spent months in a wheelchair and had to relearn how to walk. When asked to describe the whole experience, this vocabulary whiz replies matter-of-factly: “scornful.” But what’s most remarkable about this young survivor is her positive attitude. “Harper hasn’t ever asked, ‘Why me?’” says her dad, Jamie. (“Well, maybe once or twice,” she considers.) Instead of focusing on the illness, this spirited protagonist turned her attention to the well-being of her fellow patients.
On good days during her hospital stay, Harper would grab her IV pole and tool around the ward to visit with her peers, earning her the nickname “The Mayor.” And on Thursdays, these friends all looked forward to the arrival of the Happy Wheels cart, a mobile shelf laden with new books and toys to help young patients escape their beds for a spell and take refuge in a world of playtime and imagination. So when Harper learned that the volunteer-based service was facing shutdown due to lack of supplies, “The Mayor” set out on a campaign to procure the much-needed goods.
Under the guidance of family friend and Wonder Works toy-store owner Christine Osborne, Harper created a Facebook blitz called “Week of Wonder.” The concept? For every person who “liked” the Wonder Works page during those seven days last November, a toy would be donated to the cart. “Happy Wheels has been a big part of my treatment,” explains Harper on a YouTube video that helped spread the word. “Tell all your friends to ‘like’ Wonder Works, and we can make a very humongous difference.”
And that she did. By the end of the week, Harper had secured nearly 6,000 “Likes;” continuing the campaign through the month, the hits totaled 8,000. “Harper’s persistence, enthusiasm, and passion drove us to get commitments for more than 10,000 toys—everything from plush animals to art supplies—from major companies,” says Osborne, who garnered support from top manufacturers such as Cloud B, Educational Insights, Manhattan Toy, Melissa & Doug, and Westminster. Now there’s enough loot to keep the Happy Wheels cart in business for two more years, and Harper, who is already brainstorming another toy drive, has given this touching story a truly happy ending.
Favorite Subject: Spelling
Community Spirit: Harper has also raised thousands of dollars for MUSC through appearances at golf tournaments and benefit galas.
Career Aspirations: To be a writer (Harper has already penned several chapter books in spiral-bound notebooks) or a vet
Tween dream: Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Harper and her family visited Disney World in June.
Fun Fact: “Mayor Harper” got to meet Mayor Joe Riley, thanks to her efforts on the Happy Wheels campaign. “He’s very nice,” she says. Harper recalls stepping into his office and gasping, “Wow, this is like the President’s office,” after which Riley showed her a picture of himself with President Obama.