Category Archives: Make Room for Kids

A truly very good day. Make Room for Kids Install 2015.

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“This makes it feel like you don’t even have anything wrong with you.” — Taylor, 19, undergoing an infusion treatment at Children’s while playing on the new XBOX just installed in her station.

Taylor has been coming to Children’s for eight years for treatment, and each one lasts hours and hours. Before yesterday, she did not have gaming to occupy herself while sitting in a treatment chair in the Infusion/Dialysis unit. But this beautiful, soccer-playing young woman saw we had soccer games like FIFA in the box, and her eyes lit up and she got busy playing.

Now, Taylor’s words to KDKA, “This makes it feel like you don’t even have anything wrong with you,” is basically the entire idea behind Make Room for Kids and is the very foundation of why we continue to raise funds and operate … our belief, our strong belief that gaming takes young patients’ minds off of scary times and sometimes painful or long treatments.

To hear a patient voice that exact thing, completely unprompted and unscripted, well, it was something. I’ll never forget that ever. She validated with one statement everything we’ve been doing for the past six years with Make Room for Kids. You can watch the video of Taylor speaking to KDKA’s Heather Abraham and make note of how Heather’s face completely changes when Taylor utters that sentence. It’s powerful.


Now, let me walk you through the day so you can see where your donations went!

Arrival. 8:55 on the dot, two SUVs slowly pull up to the main entrance loaded with secret service –

Kidding. With boxes and boxes and boxes. And already there and waiting are lots of blue-shirted Microsoft employees, Mario Lemieux Foundation staff and hospital staff.

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Here’s the mastermind of logistics, Microsoft’s Luke Sossi, who has basically run the “HOW THE HELL ARE WE GOING TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN” part of Make Room for Kids since the first year.

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Assembled, time for a quick team picture!

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And then Luke says, “Go to your places!” This year, the team split into two units because we had our biggest undertaking yet. Installing a new unit, maintenance on all units previously installed, and then pulling out and refurbishing/upgrading every XBOX in the transplant unit.

I head with Luke and crew to the fourth floor where the Infusion/Dialysis unit is and there they install the first XBOX in Taylor’s station.

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She sweetly says thank you as if that’s the end, and I’m all, “Well, how about a game? Do you play?”

She mentions she plays Playstation with her brother, so she can pick up gaming pretty quickly. I grab the box of games and movies we designated for that unit. She saw soccer, eyes lit up, and that was that.

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Across from Taylor, we have 15-year-old Haley. Who wants to do boring homework now that the XBOX is there? Not Haley.

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She was playing some sort of racing game, I think. She was there with her “favorite uncle” who brought her in and sat with her during her treatment. Big Penguins fans, her family.

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After installing all the XBOXs in that unit and leaving them with their games, controllers, and more, we headed up to the seventh floor where the staging area had been set up, and here’s how that room looked.

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What is all this madness, you ask? This is the Microsoft team cleaning, refurbishing, and upgrading every original XBOX that was installed in the Transplant Unit five years ago, our first year of Make Room for Kids. A few XBOXs went on to replace broken or missing units and the rest were put in storage at the hospital so Child Life staff has backups should any unit break or need serviced. No kids in our units are going without gaming for long now that we have this backup refurbished stash.

They then installed brand new XBOXs in every transplant room, therefore, we did two COMPLETE units yesterday. Infusion/Dialysis and Transfusion. We also put XBOXs in the Cardiac Step Down unit which was relocated last year after our heart unit install.

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Drew and Karen from the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Keeping an eye on that organized chaos.

In the transplant unit, we met Case, who isn’t quite two yet. While his XBOX was being replaced, Case wasn’t much feeling up to having visitors and certainly not having a camera on him. Until I asked him if he maybe wanted a game, and he was a changed child IMMEDIATELY. I ran to grab a few games he might like, thinking to give him one, and he grabbed all three in quick succession, squealing as he looked at each new title.

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And then I said, “I don’t suppose you like Paw Patrol,” because he’s at the exact age for that. And he nearly exploded. Nancy Angus, executive director of the Mario Lemieux Foundation ran to get the DVD from the box and he was basically on Cloud 9.

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His sweet mother was attempting to help him get his new stuff organized and he was all, “PAW PATROL PAW PATROL PUT ON PAW PATROL MOMMMMM.”

Happy kiddo.

Further down the hall, this sweet girl who asked for a racing game and was thrilled we had a new Sonic the Hedgehog game in the box.

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Here the Microsoft employee is showing her how to switch the TV over to the XBOX.

A little further down the hall, this adorable kiddo, watching the Microsoft employees install the new XBOX.

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Smiles for days.

Back in the staging room, they’re still working furiously to upgrade so many old XBOXs, while Nancy Angus and I work on distributing the new games and movies to all the other units we’ve already outfitted.

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Hospital staff chatting with Nancy Angus as we get closer to completion.

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Back in the patient rooms, another happy kid, Noah!

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Here’s Luke with hospital employee Frank. Frank works for months and months, often coming in extra early, to prepare rooms for installations. He’s the man. The man.

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Finally, all XBOXs are installed, old are upgraded and refurbished, games, movies, cameras, music CDs and other requested goodies are distributed, all units received an extra stash of XBOX controllers, the Infusion unit received four Surface tablets, and we are done and ready to let the kids play … and forget for a bit.

It was a fantastic day that saw us reaching many areas of the building and that meant getting to see many many smiles.

Here’s coverage from WTAE.

Here’s the Lemieux Foundation’s photo gallery.

And here’s a hug from me to you for donating.

Group hug, guys.

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Chicken Dinner Winners

If you haven’t received an email from me yet with the subject line of WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER YOU LUCKY DUCK, then sadly, no, you did not win any of the great Make Room for Kids prizes.

[sad trombone]

You’ll notice we sit $500 away from the goal, but not really. You see, the kiddos in the cancer, transplant, infusion, NICU, adolescent medicine, etc. sent us lists of new games and movies they wanted. I posted all of them to an Amazon wish list, let my Twitter and Facebook followers know, and in 18 hours, $2,000 worth of titles were purchased and on their way to Mario Lemieux Foundation offices. Before I ever had a chance to mention the wish list here.

So, actually, we are at $11,500 raised from my readers, therefore, I gave the prizes away.

However, if it is just driving you bonkers that the ticker isn’t at the top, well, I’m not going to throw myself on your keyboard to stop you from donating out of the goodness of your big giant Burgh heart. Funds will be welcomed and they will be used to make sick kids’ hospital stays a little brighter.

Winners as selected by Random.org:

– The winner of the Pirates Home Opener tickets was a reader named Alan O. When I emailed him the fantastic CHICKEN DINNER news, he responded that unfortunately, he’s out of the state until May. He wondered if we could find someone deserving to use the tickets, so I reached out to Genre’s Kids With Cancer Fund, and the organization is identifying a local childhood cancer family that would enjoy attending the game. Perfect.

– Donald M. won the amazing Dave DiCello metal print. Dave is mailing or has already mailed him his prize directly.

– MaryAnne H. won the Pens Charity Gift Bag. I’m mailing it tomorrow.

– Randy G. won the autographed Sid Crosby jersey. I mailed it today and sent him the tracking number.

– Jessica M. won a previously un-featured prize, this fantastic print from local photographer Jason Furda who reached out to offer the print up for a giveaway.

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Man. Love that. Lucky girl. Check his work out here. Really stunning stuff. Go to his site and find “Contemplating the Rubber Duck,” another Mister Rogers statue print, and feel the feels.

Jason is mailing or has already mailed the print directly.

– Katie S. won the prize pack from the Penguins with the autographed Sid print, the autographed Hornqvist jersey, the Letang stick, and the Pens/Flyers tickets. I met Katie and personally handed her prize to her, because how do you even mail a hockey stick, Internet?

– Rose F. and Lesley P. won the Pirates gift bags full of bobbleheads and other goodies. I’m also mailing those tomorrow.

– And finally! Wild Bill Wichrowski from Deadliest Catch sent me a great box full of good stuff from his store in Florida that just arrived. I’ll pick a winner for that tonight.

Thank you to all who donated here or via the wish list. It honestly moved me to read down the list of hundreds of names, some familiar, some not, and see such outpouring of generosity for our city’s sick children who will relish this extra distraction from pain and treatment.

Mario Lemieux Foundation, Microsoft and I will install this month (well, they install while I watch and take pictures and chat with little kiddos) and I will be sure to share all the fantastic details with you.

Group hug.





Make Room for Kids 2015 and a HOME OPENER GIVEAWAY

A doctor utters the word dialysis to an adult, and the trepidation sets in.

Hours upon hours sitting in a chair getting treatment for a life-threatening illness. Four hours or more at a time. Up to three days a week.

Oh, you have a life you need to live? That’s too bad. This is your new life for a while.

Say the word dialysis to a child, and they don’t know.

At first.

But soon, they’ll know, just like cancer kids learn to say the name of their 24-letter cancer type.

Sit still in this chair for HOURS ON END. With a NEEDLE IN YOUR BODY.

Want to see what it’s like? I found this video. Try not to cry at this bubbly little girl who very matter-of-factly tells you what it’s like …

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How would you like to tell your little child they have to experience that? For weeks, months, or maybe years?

I can’t fathom it. I had trouble informing my son there was a chance he would need a scoliosis back brace (he didn’t). I had trouble informing my little girl she might need to wear hearing aids one day (probably not).

Telling them they would undergo dialysis treatments? Nope. Then actually watching them go THROUGH IT? Nope nope nope.

Well, Burghers, this year with Make Room for Kids, we are going to show the dialysis patients at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh some love. And like the billboard on Route 30 says, we are going to use love to turn them from patients, back into children.

We are going to give them lots of entertainment options to take their minds off of treatment while they are sitting in the dialysis chairs at CHP. We’re going to give them gaming, movies, and more. They will not be bored or focusing on their treatment. They will be distracted, smiling, forgetting.

We’re also going to be taking care of the nearby infusion unit, where, again, children must remain still while undergoing HOURS-LONG TREATMENTS. They need tablets, games, and more.

And we aren’t going to stop there. We are going to do some needed maintenance on other units we’ve already outfitted. Replace some broken XBOXs. Give them new games and controllers. We’ll be paying special attention to the epilepsy unit and we will be outfitting four additional patient rooms in the cancer unit.

Our goal is also to take care of those we’ve already taken care of. Keep their games and movies fresh.

It’s ambitious.

And I need your help. Microsoft’s regional employees, along with a corporate match, are doing their part to donate a good chunk of funds, but you and I? We have to take care of the other chunk.

A $10,000 chunk. Every penny will go directly to the Mario Lemieux Foundation and we’ll use it to buy what we need for our April installation at the hospital.

But I’m going to reward you. You don’t need to see a dorky picture of me; you’ve seen me at my worst.

But perhaps you might want to win …

– The Penguins Charity Gift bag I bought WITH MY OWN COLD HARD CASH. It should be arriving any day and I’ll let you know all the good stuff I get in it. It will all be yours.

– I’m begging the Pirates for a gift bag as well. I will have news on that shortly.

– The grand prize. One lucky winner will get TWO TICKETS TO THE PIRATES HOME OPENER WUT. I’m serious. The Home Opener. SQUEEEEEE.

Do you have to donate to win? No. Because that would run afoul of lottery laws. You can simply comment on this post to win, but if you have one single extra dollar to donate in love to these sick children, please use the donate button up there on the left under the thermometer. All donors to the drive are automatically entered into the drawing for the three prizes, and their email addresses will be combined with those who simply comment below to win, into one big prize-eligible pool.

I will award the prizes the MOMENT we hit $10,000.

Please help me help these kids and come April, you’re going to be so happy you did.

Group hug!





A really really really good day

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Last Friday at 9:00 a.m., Make Room for Kids, an initiative of the Mario Lemieux Foundation supported by Microsoft and ALL OF YOU, arrived at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh with the goal to provide a multimedia makeover for the CICU unit, the Cardiac Step Down unit, and the Trauma/Ortho unit. In addition, we delivered boxes of new games, movies, and other goodies to every unit we overhauled in years past … transplant, adolescent medicine, and oncology. Our most ambitious install day ever.

The morning kicked off when the Mario Lemieux Foundation and Microsoft arrived with SUVs full of good stuff for the kids.

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That’s a lot of loot!

Me and MLF’s Nancy Angus being adorable and staying out of the way adorably. Adorable.

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Briefing by Microsoft’s Luke Sossi, the planning and logistics mastermind who ensures the operation runs smoothly and who also ran the fundraising campaign at Microsoft, encouraging employees to donate to the program:

IMG_0699Child Life Specialist Beth Moneck talks about how important the gaming will be to the patients and also prepares the installers for what they might encounter in the CICU rooms:

IMG_0707Nancy Angus thanks everyone for their time and donations to the program. There in the background is Frank. He’s the person at the hospital responsible for making sure each room is ready for an XBOX install — a process that starts way back in the fall:

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And they’re off! Three floors to hit, 4, 6, and 8.

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The first XBOX is installed in the waiting area of the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit) as the families and siblings of patients often have long waits here considering surgeries can happen at any time in the CICU rooms.

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IMG_0721The CICU is just … well … heartbreaking. You can’t fathom what these kids and their families are suffering through, and your donations are going a long way to make their stay a little bit better.

Hannah is 11 and if her room is any indication, she loves pink and black.  She’s here for surgeries while awaiting a heart transplant. As the install was taking place, she sat on her bed holding a copy of Plants versus Zombies, which just happened to be the game she was handed while they installed her XBOX. She was quiet and I said, “Did you want a different game to play maybe?”

She shyly nodded her head as if she felt badly for asking and I’m thinking, “Girl. You’re 11. You’re waiting for a new heart. You can have anything you damn well want. BRB.”

So we hooked her up with Angry Birds and this was her reaction:

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Here’s another young patient who was happy to get started with the new XBOX in her room:

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Room by room. 38 XBOXes. High-risk rooms meant taking important precautions:

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Other rooms didn’t require such precautions:

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IMG_0731Here’s the whole install team:

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Each child received an XBOX installed in their room, a controller, a game to get started with, a Microsoft hat, lanyard, and keychain with a tiny controller replica on it:

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And that’s not all! We also delivered, thanks to your donations:

– Over 100 XBOX games

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– Over 150 movies. I insisted that every unit received a copy of Frozen because DO YOU WANT TO BUILD A SNOWMAN IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE A SNOWMAN OKAY BYEEeee. Shut up.

IMG_0767– Tons of scrapbooking stuff, because as I’ve mentioned in the past, scrapbooking is not only a great distraction, but a good way for kids to address their fears. We included cameras, photo printers, memory cards, tons of cool papers, and lots more.

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– Eight Surface units! We gave four to the CICU/Cardiac Step Down unit and two to the transplant unit and two to the adolescent medicine unit. Each was delivered with a keyboard and protective sleeve. Good for gaming and surfing the web.

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IMG_0740– And check out these sweet Tomb Raider-themed controllers. Microsoft brought 38 of these so that the units have some extras to allow patients to play with family members or others:

IMG_0751– Your donations allowed us to give each unit from previous years a box full of goodies as well as a few extra controllers. They received new games, new movies, and more. The transplant unit was provided with two new LeapPads as well as LeapPad games for their younger patients. And they all got Frozen. LET IT GOOOO. LET IT GOOO-OOOOO! Shut up.

– This install brings us to over 150 XBOX units installed and over $125,000 in total donations to Make Room for Kids since its inception. We have outfitted at Children’s Hospital, the transplant unit, the adolescent medicine/”Frequent Fliers” unit, the oncology unit, the oncology transfusion unit, the CICU, the Cardiac Step Down unit, the trauma/ortho unit, as well as the pediatric unit at Allegheny General, and the entirety of The Children’s Home. Wow.

Near the end of the morning, as things were wrapping up, Beth from Child Life told us that one patient who had received the XBOX earlier in the morning had been getting her clothing changed and would not put down the controller to stop playing her game. She just held on and kept her eyes on the TV while her clothing was swapped.

That’s the goal. Distraction. Don’t worry. Just play. 

It was so good to hear from Child Life at each unit about how the gaming has helped them and their patients over the last few years. I promise you, it is making a difference for these kids. So I can’t thank you enough for donating each year to help us make that happen for them.

I also must give mad love and props to ROOT Sports for featuring the install during the Pens pre-game show yesterday, to the Post-Gazette for featuring it on the front page of Saturday’s paper, and to Mike Young at EA Sports for hooking the kids up with some awesome games like NHL 14 and Madden 25.

It was a fantastic day and a huge success thanks to Microsoft, the Mario Lemieux Foundation, and you.

Group hug!





A little more help?

First, you’ll notice the Make Room for Kids thermometer is gone and the reason for that is I took it down ALL BY MYSELF using HTML and widgets and microtechythingamabobiggities and I didn’t break anything.

Hashtag Jedi knight.

Second, yesterday I spent a few hours at the Mario Lemieux Foundation offices in an effort to stalk Mario and steal stuff get the shopping done for this year’s Make Room for Kids phase.

We shopped and shopped and bought and made Amazon Prime smoke a little. On and on we went until we totaled it all up and the adding machine displayed ,”JESUS, TAKE THE WHEEL!”

The issue is that we like to do maintenance. That is we go to the cancer kids and the transplant kids and the other units we’ve already outfitted and we say, “How you doin’? What do you need?”

And they responded. They asked for some new games, because keep in mind the transplant kids are using games that are now four years old. That’s  ARCHAIC in technology years. The cancer kids asked for more games that girls would like to play. The adolescent medicine unit was hoping for some specific Lego games and some extra controllers.

We did our best to fulfill all technology requests from every unit, and we did a pretty good job. But we need a few more things.

– Movies. I already personally purchased a box of movies for the units, but we need lots more and I’m hoping you’ll buy one or two. They will be divided between every unit, because I’d like to get some newer movies for the cancer, transplant, and frequent flier kids too.

– The transplant kids requested a Leap Pad 2 for the younger transplant patients. We took care of that. But we need some games for these kiddos to play, so I’ve put those on the Wish List too.

Maybe you couldn’t donate before. Maybe you hate PayPal but worship at the altar of Amazon Prime. If you want to pitch in, just click here to be taken to the Wish List. Your purchases from the Wish List will be shipped directly to the Mario Lemieux Foundation. They’ll unpack ‘em, kiss ‘em, virtually hug you, and then hand them off to the kiddos on install day in April.

Thanks, guys! I can always count on you to help us help our city’s sick kids.

Group hug.