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Jerry Davich: Giving the gift of Christmas Spirit

Daniel Alexander sits with some toys he's collected for University Chicago Medicine Comer Children's hospital Chicago his home Westville Thursay

Daniel Alexander sits with some of the toys he's collected for the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's hospital in Chicago at his home in Westville Thursay Nov. 29, 2012. Daniel, 11, has undergone treatment at the hospital after being diagnosed with a brain tumor in August of 2010. He wanted to collect toys for children who will be in the hospital over the Christmas holiday. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media

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On the Dec. 9 event, contact Red Balloon-Rise Above at 671-3297, email at Info@redballoon
riseabove.org, or visit www.redballoonriseabove.org or its Facebook page.

Updated: January 2, 2013 6:04AM



Daniel Alexander remembers being stuck inside a hospital room for several days with nothing to do.

He also remembers being given toys, games, art supplies, and even Chicago Cubs tickets while at the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital. The hospital’s Child Life and Family Education team kept him entertained, allowed him to daydream, and helped keep his mind off the serious issue of a pediatric brain tumor.

Yes, his brain tumor.

Two years ago, the 11-year-old Westville boy fell down and couldn’t control his arms and legs during a birthday celebration at a miniature golf course. For a brief moment, his body went totally limp, alarming his parents, Karen and Dennis Alexander.

Tests including a CT scan and MRI showed a rare, low-grade brain tumor called an infiltrating astrocytoma, located in a particularly vulnerable spot of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. The tumor directly caused Daniel’s temporary paralysis.

Doctors ruled out surgery and radiation for his young, developing brain, instead opting for a 48-week chemotherapy plan. The home-based, oral medication, cutting-edge treatment eventually halted the tumor’s growth and, long story short, Daniel is healthy again.

“I still have to go to the hospital for check-ups, but that’s all,” Daniel told me earlier this week.

Before each holiday season, Daniel cleans out his bedroom closet to look for any toys and games he hasn’t played with over the past year. His family then typically donates them to a charity for other less-fortunate kids.

This year, however, Daniel and his father came up with a new twist to their Christmas-time tradition. How about if they donate the toys to the Comer, where Daniel once stayed and still returns for tests?

“I liked it when I got a gift there,” Daniel told me.

“It’s our way of giving back to the hospital, and to other kids there,” explained his mother, Karen.

She sent out a blanket email to friends and family members across the country, announcing her son’s “pay it forward by giving back” plan. It gently pulled on the recipients’ heartstrings. Toys, gifts, and even cash donations started pouring in.

“My goal was 100 gifts,” said Daniel, a fifth-grader at Liberty Intermediate School in Liberty Township.

He also involved his classmates, teachers, and school staff. They, too, embraced the idea-turned-cause. More gifts came in. And more. And more.

“We have more than 250 and counting. Plus $600 in donations so far,” said Karen, who plans on delivering the gifts to the hospital on Dec. 15.

Word spread to others across the region, including to Karen’s friend Stacey Tenorio of Lake Station, who is Daniel’s honorary aunt. Her nickname for him is her “little crunch-n-munch.”

Tenorio shared Daniel’s medical plight and his Christmas crusade with others in her circle, including Tonya Lea of Lake Station, CEO of Red Balloon-Rise Above, a grassroots not-for-profit organization centered on raising community pride through charity efforts, volunteerism, and green thinking.

“Daniel knows first-hand what will make a child smile during their scariest moments because he has been there,” Lea said.

Lea helped organize an all-you-can-eat “bargain breakfast benefit” to help Daniel’s cause. Its cost is $5 and toys will be accepted as well as food donations for the local food pantry. The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9 at the American Legion Post 100, 1899 Central Ave. in Lake Station.

Daniel will be on hand to accept those gift donations for the kids who will be in the hospital during the holidays. Like I said earlier, he remembers well what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital bed with nothing to do but wait for adults to tell him his fate.

“I just know this little boy is giving everyone a bigger gift than they are giving him,” Lea said. “He is giving us the gift of Christmas spirit.”



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