Ethan Hugins buries his head in his pillow and pulls the covers over his head when visitors stop by his room at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, where he receives chemotherapy treatments to tame a tumor behind his left eye.
When Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo stops by his room, Ethan is still shy, but he comes out of his linen cave.
“He thinks of him as his friend,” said Hugins’ mom, Ryanne Hugins. “And he means the world to him.”
Rizzo, who successfully fought childhood cancer, doesn’t just visit every few weeks, he opens his pocketbook, too.
On Monday, the hospital announced it had received a $3.5 million donation from the Anthony Rizzo Foundation to create two endowed funds.
One fund, dubbed the Hope 44 Endowed Fund — after the number Rizzo wears on his jersey — will provide grants on a case-by-case basis for families facing financial hardship due to unexpected needs resulting from a child’s cancer treatment. The money could help pay for everything form parking in the Loop to meals, mortgage payments and medical bills.
Hospital social workers will be able to cut through red tape and quickly assess a family’s need for assistance without the need for a formal application. About $75,000 in grants have already been handed out.
The second fund will pay the salaries of two child life specialists, who focus on making kids smile and helping children cope with fears ranging from needle pokes to facing classmates for the first time with a bald head caused by chemotherapy.
Hugins received a grant recently to help pay for hotel costs when the family traveled to New York to seek a second and third medical opinion.
Hugins lives in Naperville and works in McDonald’s corporate office. She appreciates Rizzo’s compassion.
So, understandably, she has become a bit protective of her son’s hero — a fact that folks on the 18th floor of the hospital might have picked up on Sunday night as mother and son watched the Cubs-Yankees game.
“Last night watching Rizzo get beaned by [Yankees pitcher] Aroldis Chapman, I was screaming some choice words at the TV,” she said.
Rizzo’s donations to the hospital total more than $4 million.
His visits to see cancer patients are legendary.
“He has a huge pizza party and cookies. He brings toys. He’s kind of like Santa for the day,” said Lura Carstensen, a child life specialist who has become pals with Rizzo.
“It’s just kind of a magical day for them,” she said.
“They maybe, even for just a second, forget their diagnosis and why they’re here and are sort of overtaken by his presence,” said Mel Lamagna, a social work manager at the hospital.