Rivals clash for a cause: DuBourg and St. Mary's students raise funds for World Pediatric Project
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The green baseball-style cap was a little big for him, but 9-year-old Erickson Hernandez liked it anyway. The green soccer jersey, "How to Train a Dragon" coloring sheets and other items came as a pleasant surprise as well.
Off to his side, Maria del Carmen, 19, held a bright red balloon and checked out a red T-shirt, red headband and other gifts.
Erickson, from rural Guatemala, and Maria, from Colombia, found themselves the center of attention as supporters met them Aug. 8 at the West County Ronald McDonald House. St. Mary's High School students and faculty members — Dragons — gave Erickson the items with their school logo and the Bishop DuBourg High School students and faculty — Cavaliers — handed Maria items with their school logo. Later, the St. Mary's group kicked a soccer ball around with Erickson as the DuBourg group chatted with Maria.
Erickson and Maria are in St. Louis receiving medical treatment with the help of the World Pediatric Project. The project's mission is to build a better life in the Latin and Central America by providing quality, critical-care health services to children. It treats children while empowering local medical communities to better care for them.
Children in need of complex care are transported to U.S.-based or advanced regional facilities. The medical partners in the St. Louis area include Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, Family Care Health Centers, Shriners Hospital St. Louis and St. Louis Children's Hospital. The local Ronald McDonald House is home for children who require prolonged care.
In September, St. Mary's will host DuBourg in the "Shoe Game," the annual football game between the rival schools. This year marks the first time the archdiocesan schools are partnering off the field, raising funds and awareness for the World Pediatric Project.
The schools have "adopted" the cases of the two Latin Americans and want to raise $5,000 for each. The schools invited Erickson and Maria to visit their schools and to see the game. The patients were made honorary Dragons and Cavaliers.
Erickson was born with severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and two partial arms on his left side. He came to St. Louis for the first time at age 4 as a patient at Shriners Hospital. In an unprecedented surgery, his two left arms were fused into one functional arm.
A device was placed in his back to treat his severe scoliosis, and since then he returns every six months for a routine lengthening of the device. Without treatment, Erickson's lungs slowly would be crushed. Every time he returns to St. Louis, he is welcomed by the same host family, the Browns of St. Clement Parish, who have supported him and his mother since his first trip. Airfare, medications and other expenses are covered through the commitment of many people.
Erickson is bilingual and excels in school, despite living in poverty. With his host family, he said, he enjoys riding a bike, playing video games and watching television.
Maria was born with a bone disease that blocks Vitamin D from being absorbed into her body. As a result, her legs were misshaped, almost at a 90-degree angle when she didn't use crutches, and it caused pain. Yet, before coming here for treatment, she swam three hours a day and made the Special Olympics team from her country. She attends college and studies biology.
Her bones were so weakened by disease that she had to be on medicine at least six months before surgery to strengthen them. Her bones were cut, and she had large rings put on her legs to straighten and hold them while she healed. She goes to Shriners three times a week for physical therapy and works every day on her exercises. She is nearing the end of her stay, with only a few months to go. "I see the light," she said.
An acquaintance of her family connected her to the pediatric project. "It's like a miracle," she said. "I had been searching for treatment for 18 years."
In writing about her situation, she noted that she asked God with all of her heart if He could bless the people helping her and to give her doctors the knowledge to heal her and give her better prospects in life.
Andrew Rettig, a sophomore at DuBourg, said the visit made him excited to see what people can do for others. He especially enjoyed the happiness Maria and Erickson showed upon seeing their guests. Amy Tran, a DuBourg senior, added that her school's motto is "Faith in Christ, Service to Others," and "giving back is a huge thing."
According to Gus Dattoli, a freshman at St. Mary's, Erickson is inspiring.
"He seems to never let anything get to him," Dattoli said. "He's acting like a kid should by having fun."
Joe Dattoli, a senior at St. Mary's, said: "It makes me happy that our school is really behind him to help him in his time of need."
The two high schools boast a long, sometimes heated football rivalry dating to the early 1960s. In the 1950s, DuBourg's athletic director traveled to Europe and visited the Netherlands. He brought back a pair of wooden Dutch shoes. One was painted green for St. Mary's and the other was painted red for DuBourg. Every year the winning team keeps both shoes for the year, displaying them proudly. DuBourg and St. Mary's will host events throughout the week of Sept. 22-26 preceding the Shoe Game.
World Pediatric Project
WHAT: Fundraising for the World Pediatric Program by Bishop DuBourg and St. Mary's High Schools
HOW: Best way to contribute is to attend pre-game event with food trucks, music and more prior to the DuBourg-St. Mary's football game; donations will be accepted
WHEN: 4-6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, with the game at 7 p.m.
WHERE: St. Mary's High School, 4701 S. Grand Ave. in south St. Louis
OR: Volunteer or donate directly to the World Pediatric Project at www.stlouisreview.com/YOr, by calling (314) 317-8809 or by mail to World Pediatric Project, P.O. Box 9227, St. Louis, Mo. 63117.
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