Building hope brick by brick

In 2001, Adam Petraglia was 10 years old and doing everything a kid should be doing: going to school, hanging out with friends, playing soccer. He was happy and healthy. Then things changed.

“I began getting sick at school, I got lazy on the soccer field – there were all these small red flags, so my parents took me to our family physician,” said Adam. “Originally, they thought it was mono, but it got to the point where I felt sick all the time.”

The doctor sent Adam to Lutheran General Hospital the day before his 11th birthday. He underwent hours of testing.

“The next day was my birthday and my mom threw me a makeshift party in the hospital’s community room. There were presents, cake and balloons. When it was over, we went back to my room where the doctor was waiting to tell me and my family that I had leukemia, which was especially devastating since I had just been celebrating my birthday.”

The treatment plan included a two-week stay at the hospital, then doctors thought Adam would be able to go home and get back to all the things he was doing before he got sick.

“But my body began to fail in response to the treatment,” explained Adam. “What was supposed to be a two-week stay turned into six months in a hospital bed. At the worst, I was put in a drug-induced coma for six weeks and doctors didn’t know if  I was going to make it.”

Then his condition began to slowly improve, and he was finally released from the hospital in August 2001. But he continued treatment and regular blood tests for four more years. It was a long and difficult journey.

“There were so many challenges I faced that no child should have to go through. I admit I was angry. It wasn’t fair. All I wanted to do was go home and be a kid again.”

One thing that helped Adam during his many months in the hospital was play, especially with LEGO bricks. 

“I remember getting LEGO sets from child life specialists, family and friends. Having that toy and being able to play gave me control and a sense of being normal. I used my imagination and was reminded of what life used to be like,” he said.

Inspired by his journey and how playing with LEGO helped him when he was sick, Adam is giving back. He recently founded Bricks of Hope, which collects and delivers donations of new LEGO sets – and messages of hope – to kids in the hospital as they continue to recover from their life-threatening diagnoses.

“Play is critical to any kid facing a life-threatening diagnosis. It’s not only the doctors, nurses and medicine that will help get them through their journey. Play is also a big step in the recovery process.”

Bricks of Hope made its first donation of 70 new LEGO sets in December to what is now Advocate Children’s Hospital, where he was treated as a child.

“I’ve always wanted to use my story to help others because it’s not just my story,” he shared. “There are thousands of kids in similar situations. I want to make an impact and help build hope while they’re battling an illness or injury.”

How you can help

The Child Life, Creative Arts Therapies and Education department at Advocate Children’s Hospital relies on the generosity of donors like Adam – and you – to help normalize the hospital experience for pediatric patients. To make a gift, click here. To find a hospital or program in your community, visit us online. To learn more about Bricks of Hope and how you can help create play and inspire imagination in sick kids during their next hospital stay, click here

Adam (second from left) recently made Bricks of Hope’s first donation of 70 new LEGO sets to Advocate Children’s Hospital.

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