Twelve-year-old Adam Wolf of Irvine couldn’t believe his ears when he got the call telling him that he was going to the Super Bowl, thanks to Chai Lifeline, the international children’s health support network, and LH Financial Services. Adam, one of two children chosen from among Chai Lifeline’s 4,300 pediatric clients for the all-expense-paid trip of a lifetime, suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. The chance to fly to Dallas, see the game from seats near the field on the Steelers’ 20-yard line, meet some players and be part of the festive atmosphere offered a welcome respite from reality, and Adam is still beaming.
“Hearing his excitement and seeing his smile after the experience was amazing, especially because he’s had a tough few months getting ready for surgery,” said Adam’s mother, Ali. The cast with the Green Bay Packers logo on Adam’s left arm is a reminder that the exhausting trips to Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles will culminate in a tendon release operation that could give Adam greater use of that arm. “Maybe I can even catch a football with two hands,” he said.
Adam, one of a set of quadruplets in a family of seven children, had never been to a professional football game before. He went to the Super Bowl with his Chai Lifeline counselor, 19-year-old Shlomo Platschek. The two became fast friends when Adam attended Camp Simcha, Chai Lifeline’s overnight summer camp for children and teens with chronic illnesses and disabilities. In January Shlomo, a student at a yeshiva in Bridgeport, Connecticut, pushed Adam’s wheelchair for 13.1 miles when he ran the ING Miami Half Marathon to raise money for Chai Lifeline. In February Shlomo, whom Ali and Rob Wolf call their “New York son,” flew to California to be with Adam during his surgery.
Adam talks to or texts with or e-mails with Shlomo, who is one of eight brothers, about three times a day. He also has frequent contact with other counselors and campers.
“Some days are really hard, and my kid is having a rough moment, and that’s when the magic happens,” Ali said. “I send a text or e-mail to a counselor, and someone calls my son from Israel to make him feel better, another video chats from the east coast, while yet another is instant messaging him on Facebook. I see that magic as my son’s face lights up, and the happiness spreads through the house.”
Ali describes Chai Lifeline as Adam’s lifeline and the boys as “the oxygen he breathes.” She is especially grateful to Shlomo, who “is totally here for us.” She added, “It wasn’t enough for him to run in the marathon. He wanted to give Adam the experience of being part of it. Adam was on a huge high from that, and then he got to go to the Super Bowl. Now, when Shlomo could just go on vacation, he chooses to live by the words of the Torah and be here to help Adam.”
The Wolf family heard of Chai Lifeline a few years ago through a neighbor, and it has been what Ali Wolf describes as a life-changing experience for the entire family. The organization, whose mission is to bring joy and hope to children and families fighting serious illnesses through creative, innovative and family-focused activities, programs and services, provides all services free of charge.
“You can call Chai Lifeline when you’re stressed and get emotional support,” Ali explained. “We didn’t utilize everything right away. When Adam went to Camp Simcha for the first time in 2009, I flew to New York. Then, I pulled up to the gate and saw that Adam wouldn’t have one moment to miss me or be sad. There was cheering, screaming, high-fiving and even lifting his wheelchair. People didn’t look at him and judge him. His medical and physical issues were handled. He could go to camp and be away from home, just like any other kid.”
When Adam came home from camp, Ali began to make connections with the mothers’ support group called Seasons of Respite. “I met some amazing women and connected on a level like no other with people whose children also had a lifelong medical condition, and now these people are some of my closest friends,” she said. “We are here to support each other, and there is complete acceptance.”
The second year of camp, Ali and Rob Wolf decided to let Chai Lifeline send a counselor to California to pick up Adam and take him to New York. They could get a break to spend time with their other children while having the peace of mind that Adam was being cared for and having the time of his life.
Now the family participates in as many Chai Lifeline activities as possible, even though it usually means a drive to the Los Angeles area. There are fun family days, including holiday celebrations. According to Randi Grossman, MPH, the organization’s west coast director, “Disabilities and illness too often keep kids on the sidelines instead of in the game. Our aim is to provide the optimal mixture of experiences and support that will help the kids set high goals and reach their potential.”
How eager is Adam to go back to camp? “He has a countdown and checks the camp website to see how many days left until camp begins,” Ali said.
“The boys at camp are party animals,” Adam added with a big smile.
For more information, contact Randi Grossman, MPH, director, Chai Lifeline West Coast, at (310) 274-6331, (877) 374-6331 or www.chailifeline.org.
Sidebar: About Chai Lifeline
Chai Lifeline is an international children’s health support network whose mission is to bring joy and hope to children and families fighting pediatric illnesses through creative, innovative, and family-focused activities, programs, and services. The organization attempts to meet the emotional, social, and financial needs of children and teens with life-threatening or lifelong illnesses, their families and communities. All services are free of charge. All Chai Lifeline programs are created and delivered with the ideals of compassion, kindness, and caring for others inherent in Jewish culture and life.
Each summer, 400 seriously ill children are treated to unforgettable, medically supervised overnight camp experiences at Camp Simcha, for children battling cancer and other hematological illnesses, and Camp Simcha Special, for children with debilitating chronic conditions. Children and teens trade hospital rooms and doctors’ offices for fun, friendship, and hope for the future. Campers enjoy traditional camp activities – including talent shows, concerts and helicopter, hot-air and motorcycle rides – in fully handicapped-accessible facilities. Campers return home reinvigorated, with deep friendships and happy memories.