Sawyer Burke is a curious 12-year-old who understands the power of giving back. And he’s reaching for his goals, one dollar at a time.


In March 2020, Sawyer found himself at home with his twin sister and elder sibling watching the COVID-19 pandemic unfold from their smartphones and through the windows of their Hatchet Lake home.


Sawyer, an active hockey and baseball player, is also a history buff and savvy researcher who became captivated by the pandemic and the race for a vaccine.


With more downtime than he’s used to, Sawyer says it wasn’t long into his e-learning journey that he started visiting the World Health Organization website and Nova Scotia’s coronavirus fact sheet regularly for the latest information. What was it like caring for the sickest in our community? How many cases worldwide? When will a vaccine be available in Canada? How can I help? Sawyer suddenly wanted to know it all.


“I wasn’t really interested in medicine before COVID-19 but then I started to learn more,” Sawyer says. “Learning about health and research is really fascinating to me now. I thought before it was boring but now I think it would be really rewarding and cool to work in health care.”


It wasn’t long into his research before Sawyer visited the QEII Foundation website and started tuning in to updates from Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, and Premier Stephen McNeil.


Hearing day after day about the heroic efforts front-line staff at the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s microbiology lab were undertaking, Sawyer felt compelled to help.


Sawyer, with donations previously sent to Feed Nova Scotia, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the IWK Foundation, knew every bit would help, so he sent a donation and a handwritten letter to the QEII Foundation specifying the money be used to help purchase personal protective equipment for staff and life-saving equipment for COVID-19 patients.


“I thought I should send them a letter for all of their effort and help and give them a donation and say ‘thank you,’” says Sawyer.


And like all good deeds, the gesture paid off.


The funds were used as directed and Sawyer’s letter made it to QEII staff, who responded with a signed thank you letter and group photo of the team holding a testing kit and a box of N95 masks.


“I felt really proud of myself when I got the letter,” says Sawyer. “It’s very nice to know that you’re helping out other people who are in need or who are in severe condition and in need of treatment and care.”


Sawyer says the response encouraged him to continue his charitable giving and spread his message through his social media channels.


As the pandemic continues, Sawyer’s research and his desire to give back continues to grow. The Grade 7 student, who likes ATVs and video games, looked into the QEII Foundation’s fundraising priorities and discovered the world of surgical robots. From there, another fundraising campaign was born.


“I saw robotics for surgeries and they’re really fascinating,” says Sawyer. “The benefits to robotic surgery are things like more precision, gentler on the skin and they lead to shorter hospital stays and less work for the surgeons. They can be very beneficial.”


Sawyer’s interests in philanthropy and research have opened his eyes to the possibility of a career in medicine, specifically as a vaccinologist.


“Vaccine scientists make a good amount of money, so it would give me a good chance to donate more to hospitals and causes like this.”


At publication time, Sawyer raised $700 of his $1,000 fundraising goal for surgical robots and the young philanthropist shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he’s a bit baffled more people aren’t opening their wallets, even just a little bit.


“I want to show other kids that they don’t have to feel like they’re helpless and can’t do anything,” he says. “It’s not just adults that can donate. We can donate, too, and I want to inspire others to do it. I want to start a flow of people to donate so the hospital can buy new things that will save lives and help the world.”


To learn more about Sawyer’s virtual fundraising campaign for surgical robots at the QEII and to donate, visit