Rizzo Foundation Provides a Big "W" for Cancer Patients and Families

August 16, 2017

Anthony Rizzo inspires patients and their families during his regular visits to Lurie Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

Along with most of Chicago, Melissa Mota and her husband, Jorge Negrete, were glued to the TV on November 2, 2016, when the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cleveland Indians to win their first World Series since 1908. But instead of celebrating the historic moment at home, they celebrated it in an inpatient room in Lurie Children’s oncology unit, where their 10-month-old daughter, Abby, was recuperating from a stem cell transplant as part of her treatment for leukemia.

Like many Lurie Children’s patient families, Melissa and Jorge quickly found out that a child’s diagnosis of cancer is more than just an emotional shock to the system.

“It was also financially devastating,” says Melissa, who stopped working to stay at the hospital with Abby. “Virtually overnight, we became a one-income household. The medical bills kept piling up, and we went through our savings just to keep afloat.”

To their surprise, Abby’s family later benefited from the generosity of one of the Cubs’ superstars they had cheered on: slugger Anthony Rizzo, who battled cancer himself as a young adult. With the assistance of an oncology social worker, they applied for and received a grant from the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation’s Hope 44 Endowed Fund, which helped offset some of their medical bills and associated expenses.

“This grant made a huge difference in our lives,” says Melissa, whose daughter is now 19 months old and in remission.

Even more families like Abby’s will be able to receive assistance thanks to a new $3.5 million commitment by the Rizzo Foundation to create two endowed funds. Because the Foundation chose endowments as their giving vehicle, these resources will be available for Lurie Children’s patients and families for generations to come.

Based on needs assessments from the oncology social work staff, the Hope 44 Endowed Fund will continue to provide financial relief on a case-by-case basis for families facing financial burdens, including costs associated with insurance co-pays, meals, parking, transportation, rent, utility bills and childcare for siblings.

"As a survivor of cancer, I know the emotional and financial strain the diagnosis can put on a family," says Anthony Rizzo. "I believe that an individual does not battle cancer alone, his or her entire family does. That’s why we've designated this money to go directly to help families on the front lines."

The second endowment, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Child Life Endowed Fund, will provide ongoing support for two oncology Child Life specialists. These integral members of a patient’s healthcare team use a variety of techniques to reduce anxiety and normalize the hospital experience for both patients and their families.

In recognition of the Rizzo family’s generosity, the 18th-floor waiting room has been named the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Waiting Room. The room is a regular stop for Rizzo during his frequent unannounced visits to Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.

“We firmly believe that a medical bill or other financial stressor should never take priority over caring for a sick child,” says Mel Lamagna, manager of Social Work at Lurie Children’s. “The needs for supporting patients with cancer and their families continues to grow each year, so to know that we have the resources to provide support year after year is a wonderful thing.”

When Graham Ikler was diagnosed with lymphoma when he was 16, his parents, Leon and Amy, discovered that the incidental expenses of having a child in the hospital mounted up fast. They worried about having to sell their house and whether they could pay for Graham’s sister’s final year of college.

“One day I received a call from one of the social workers to tell me that we had received a grant from the Rizzo Foundation,” says Amy, whose son will be a college freshman in the fall. “It was extraordinary how it lifted us up—not just financially but emotionally. I hope that someday we’ll have a chance to pay Anthony and his family’s generosity forward so we can help other families going through what we went through.”

Interested in supporting new advances at Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders? Contact Erin Markuson at 312.227.7324 or emarkuson@luriechildrens.org to learn more.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Heroes magazine.