The Biggest Little Heroes
Lucas and his family are just one of many who have been helped by The Littlest Heroes organization during their journeys with pediatric cancer. See his story and two others below.
By Ante Logarusic
Your child has cancer –– four words that represent every parent’s worst nightmare.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 10,500 children in the United States under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with cancer this year alone. Many of those seeking treatment set their sights on northeast Ohio which is home to some of the top pediatric cancer institutions in the nation including University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s, Cleveland Clinic Children’s, and Akron Children’s Hospital.
In addition to the devastating emotional impact that a cancer diagnosis yields is the harsh economic realities that families also have to face. Health insurance can help with many of the medical bills but unanticipated expenses such as parking, food, and daycare for other siblings can quickly add up.
Fortunately, The Littlest Heroes is there to help. The nonprofit works with donors, volunteers, and clinicians, at partner institutions, to meet the social, emotional, and financial needs of families during their time of need. Since 2001, they have assisted over 6,000 northeast Ohio families coping with pediatric cancer to fill the financial gaps that health insurance and other sources don’t. In fact, over $3 million dollars of support has been distributed to those in need.
Executive Director, Jon Kozesky, experienced the group’s impact firsthand and their mission became his own. His 8-year-old nephew fought a valiant battle against the disease. Sadly, he passed in 2016 but it set Jon on a new path.
“They helped Nathan and his parents through that time. I got involved from the family side of it and saw how they helped,” said Kozesky, “I knew this is what I was meant to do. God puts us in situations in our lives that are difficult. It gives us an opportunity to learn and to help other families along the way.”
Candidate families are identified by social workers who work with families at the hospitals. They are then able to provide grocery and gas gift cards every month to those families through a partnership with Giant Eagle.
For those in more serious financial distress, there is another option—the Heroes Fund supports those facing a car in repossession, who may be late with a mortgage payment, or are just not able to make ends meet.
“We tend to be the last of the last resorts where a tow truck may be on the way and we say, ‘No, you’re not.’ We’re very proud of that,” said Kozesky.
Heroes Fund disbursements are made directly to creditors, often in as little as 24 hours. Kozesky credits the size of the organization which enables them to move quickly and cut through red tape.
Financial support for the Littlest Heroes is raised through grants as well as direct donations and other fundraising activities including their popular Oktoberfest event hosted by the Cleveland Browns, which unfortunately has been canceled two year in a row due to COVID-19.
The organization has a number of other fundraising events including their annual 5K run and a car show presented in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Chevelle Club.
When asked in which ways the public could get involved, Kozesky remarked that although donations are vital, volunteerism also plays a big role at events. Volunteers help wrap and deliver presents to approximately 600 kids each year during the holiday “Adopt a Family” program.
Thanks to advances in treatment, 84% of children with cancer now survive five years or more. Families face a long and sometimes uncertain battle, but it’s good to know they are not alone.
As one family remarked, “The Littlest Heroes has been such a huge help for our family during this long battle with cancer and we are so grateful for all the help they have given us.”
For additional information on how you can help to support The Littlest Heroes, visit their website at www.thelittlestheroes.org.
Here are stories (written by the parents) of three children and their families who are forever grateful for the help they received from The Littlest Heroes organization during their cancer journeys.
“In January 2020, shortly after turning 3, Lucas was diagnosed with stage 4 high risk neuroblastoma. He immediately began chemotherapy and was placed on a trial in hopes of giving him more than 50% chance of survival for the first five years after diagnosis. He has gone through five rounds of chemotherapy, a 12+ hour long tumor resection, and two stem cell transplants which almost took his life in the process. He had less than a 1% chance of surviving from the complications.
While in-patient and on the mend from the transplant he continued with 12 cycles of radiation. He is currently going through six months of immunotherapy and then potentially two years of another trial drug called DFMO. He takes over 20 pills a day and just continues to amaze everyone around him.”
"This is Lennox, who recently turned 1 year old!
At 2 months old, I noticed his left eye was clear and I could see through his pupil, and his right eye was orange. So we got him an immediate ultrasound and discovered he had a tumor.
They then sent us to Cleveland Clinic. His doctor told us Lennox had retinoblastoma (cancer in the eye). His left eye was completely covered with the tumor and was hemorrhaged. His left eye was removed.
As for the right eye, he had a tumor but it was not affecting his vision at all so the goal was to save that eye. He has been through cryotherapy, laser, and we just started the chemo! He is very pleased with the process of curing this tumor! We just got his prosthetic eye made bigger and he is doing wonderful!"
"It was in spring 2019, when our daughter, Victoria, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia). At 2, Victoria was a happy toddler, who loved playing with her baby sister. At the time of her diagnosis, her hemoglobin was 2.3, the lowest the doctors had seen. Her fevers were up to 105F. Her treatment began right away at Cleveland Clinic and it has been tough as she has gone through delays and had hospitalizations. During the first year, we were having a hard time keeping her at a normal weight, during her maintenance her neutrophils were still at low, but she was able to continue with chemotherapy! She is a true fighter and I am so happy! Her last day of chemotherapy was June 25, 2021.