Carrying on Cal's Legacy

People often ask me if I believe in destiny and because of our son, Cal, I do. His young life has had a purpose beyond what we could have imagined.
Our lives were forever changed when Cal, an all-star baseball player, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia at age 12. The battle with pediatric cancer is a nightmare no child or family should ever have to experience, but we were blessed to receive an outpouring of support from our community, church and employers. We soon discovered that many families are not as fortunate.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with the dad of a fellow patient. He was going back and forth between two hospitals visiting his wife, who had breast cancer, and his son who had leukemia. This man was going to great lengths to avoid any expenses so that he would have enough money to eat. I told my wife, Stacey, “No matter what happens with Cal, we’ve got to do something to help other families affected by cancer.”
Throughout everything he went through, Cal never gave up hope and was always concerned about the well-being of the other children. He was caring and wise beyond his years. Our hearts were broken when Cal ultimately lost his battle with leukemia in August of 2006 at the age of 13.
As we mourned, Stacey and I talked about finding a way to carry on Cal’s courageous spirit, to use his short but meaningful life to help others. We founded Cal’s All-Star Angel Foundation the following spring and what started with an e-mail to 30 people has grown into a positive force beyond our imagination.
In just a few years, we have raised nearly $500,000 to grant the wishes of nearly 100 pediatric cancer patients (trips, shopping sprees, laptops and desktop computers) and provide financial assistance (rent, bills, groceries and transportation) to their families. We’ve also provided college scholarships and donated countless toys, games and electronics to Children’s. Making sure kids have something fun to do in the hospital is important to us because it was important to Cal.
In the new facility, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Cal’s legacy is continuing. Thanks to our generous supporters, we recently made a significant funding commitment to help bring to life the extraordinary design plans for the hospital’s 17th floor, where children with cancer will receive care.
We are the first organization to contribute to the Creative Arts Community Partnership Program, which is enlisting Chicago’s cultural icons to help design various floors of Lurie Children’s, infusing unique themes, art and activities (the 17th floor partner is the Chicago Children’s Museum, for example). In addition, we also plan to help stock the playrooms on the 17th and 18th floors with fun things to do for kids of all ages.
We know firsthand how your surroundings can affect your state of mind when you’re in the hospital. A healing environment, with soothing colors, activities and welcome distractions, can help put the whole family at ease.
As I envision the moment when I’ll first see the display in the new hospital bearing Cal’s name, I get choked up. Cal would be amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time all because of the people he touched and inspired during the equally short, but meaningful time we all were blessed to have with him. Our hearts will always miss Cal, but we take comfort in knowing his legacy of caring continues.
This article first appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Heroes magazine.