It's tough not to tear up when you're talking to Avery Sax.
The 11-year-old Moorpark girl suffers from an abnormal connection between the veins and arteries in her brain, an inoperable condition that already caused one massive hemorrhage and leaves her susceptible to others.
But the vivacious youngster with the sunny smile and sprinkling of freckles doesn't have time for self-pity or even a dark moment.
She's on a mission to help recycle 100,000 beverage containers by April 22 - Earth Day - a campaign to help save the environment that will also help raise money for her care.
"I'm really happy and excited," Avery said Friday, as she helped customers feed bottles and cans into a recycling kiosk in Thousand Oaks.
The Recycle with BrAvery program is sponsored by rePLANET, which recycles aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles at parking-lot kiosks around California. Eight centers in Canoga Park, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley and Moorpark are participating in the drive.
Rather than cashing in their vouchers for the recyclables they bring in, customers can donate them to Avery's cause. RePLANET is adding 10 percent to the total, and donating it in Avery's name to the Talbert Family Foundation, a nonprofit that provides financial help to families coping with catastrophic illnesses.
Avery was diagnosed a year ago with arteriovenous malformation, after being rushed to the emergency room with violent nausea and "the worst headache of my life." A CT scan revealed a tangle of blood vessels feeding a web of aneurysms inside her brain, a cluster so big "the doctors dropped their jaws," said Avery, a straight-A student at Flory Academy in Moorpark.
Single mom Kinder Sax, who had just returned to work as publisher of the Jewish Journal after a battle with cancer, quit her job to care for her daughter and Avery's two brothers. Sax has lost her house and car and is scrambling to pay the $1,500-a-month premiums on a health-insurance policy her ex-husband acquired for the three kids before he lost his job.
Sax went in search of a doctor who could treat Avery, but the medical professionals all said the case was hopeless. Finally, a visiting neurologist at Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center suggested using targeted radiation in an effort to reduce the blood flow to the aneurysms.
It will be at least two years before doctors can determine whether the treatment worked. If it is successful, Avery will have to undergo another round of the grueling therapy.
In the meantime, Avery has morning sickness and hot flashes, which her mom explains is caused by the fist-size blood vessels resting on the hypothalamus, tricking it to respond with symptoms of both pregnancy and menopause.
"Everyone has been so great, and offering to help in any way they can," Sax said. "Someone suggested a fundraiser to help Avery, but she said, `Why just fundraise when we can do something that helps the whole world?"'
On Friday, customers who had heard Avery's story on a local morning news show arrived at the rePLANET kiosk loaded down with garbage bags bulging with bottles and cans.
"It's for a good cause," said Gabriel Duran, 40, of Thousand Oaks, who donated the nearly $35 he received for recycling the beverage containers from his son's birthday party to Avery's cause. "If we all help a little bit, it can make a big difference."
Capering around the recycling kiosk in a denim dress and cowboy boots, Avery talked very matter-of-factly about her condition - she called it a "bummer" - but never dwelled on the uncertain prognosis.
Instead, she talked about preparing for her bat mitzvah in December, when she'll turn 12, and how 13-year-old brother Alexander is delaying a big party for his upcoming bar mitzvah so the two can celebrate together.
Her Jewish faith has given her a lot of strength, she said, and helped her realize that she's a miracle kid.
"I feel like I have a direct line to God," she said. "I feel like I'm meant to be something special."