Brick by brick: Wauconda man collects Lego sets for area hospitals so kids can just be kids
Adam Petraglia has always loved Legos. He would spend hours in his Lake Zurich basement as a boy letting his imagination run wild.
"Legos are a toy I am very passionate about, and still am today. And I'm not afraid to admit it," said Adam with a laugh.
Now 32, Adam's devotion to the bricks runs even deeper thanks to a devastating turn of events on his 11th birthday.
That's the day Adam found out he had leukemia.
Adam, who now lives in Wauconda, said he was always a super competitive kid, especially on the soccer field. In fact, that's when his parents first took note something was off.
"My dad noticed I was being lazy on the soccer field. I wasn't being as aggressive," he said.
In January 2001, he started getting sick at school. A trip to the doctor brought a diagnosis of mono. He was given an antibiotic and sent on his way.
But he kept getting sick.
Finally, his doctor sent Adam and his parents to Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, where he underwent a series of tests. He would be celebrating his birthday in the hospital.
"I come from a family of eight, and they all came to the hospital to celebrate my 11th birthday. We were celebrating in the community recreation room right next to my hospital room. When we got back there, my doctor was waiting for us," Adam said. "It was like a pot slowly started to boil. We knew something was wrong."
When the doctor told him he had cancer, Adam said he didn't understand what that really meant. "But I could tell by the looks on my parents' faces that it was bad."
His leukemia was curable, and doctors laid out their plan for the family. The next day he started treatment, but his body did not respond the way doctors had hoped.
Adam spent 6 months in the hospital. He was eventually put in a drug-induced coma for 5 weeks because the level of treatment would be too painful for him to endure.
"It was the low point," Adam said, "but also the high point, because that is what turned it around for me."
When he came out of his coma, Adam was in a wheelchair with braces on his legs due to atrophy and his hands were clenched shut. He went through months of physical therapy to help him learn to walk again and use his hands.
"It was all extremely challenging," Adam said. "You're missing weeks of school, missing out being in social groups. Everything gets taken away. Legos were the one constant. I had a passion for them. It was when I could feel free and have a sense of control," Adam said. "Legos were my escape."
Adam believes play was absolutely critical to his recovery. And he wants to pass that along to other kids in the hospital.
On Dec. 2, 2021, Adam launched Bricks of Hope, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which collects donations of new Lego sets to be donated to area hospitals.
"Legos offer a connection to play, which is essential to healing for children," Adam said. "Kids in the hospital don't have choices. They are in a fight for life. Legos just let you be a kid again."
Thanks to a network of family and friends, Adam was able to donate 70 new Lego sets to Advocate Children's Hospital in Park Ridge, where he was treated.
In January, he donated more than 100 new sets to Comer Children's Hospital, and matched that for La Rabida in February.
In March, he aims to make the same donation to Lurie Children's Hospital, and in April to Shriner's.
He said some sets stay in the community rooms for everyone to share, while other hospitals send kids home with them.
"We don't want to be a seasonal charity," Adam said. "Treatment isn't seasonal, so we can't be either. We don't want it to just be at Christmas or one time a year."
Bricks of Hope recently teamed with Learning Express in Lake Zurich for a big donation drive and netted 208 sets. The student council at Avon Center School in Round Lake Beach has made Bricks of Hope its charity of choice for March and is taking donations.
Wild Onion Brewery, 22221 N. Pepper Road in Lake Barrington, will be donating $1 for every pint ordered on Wednesdays in April to the charity as part of its Raise a Pint for Charity initiative.
"We just want to keep this ball rolling by having community events and engaging people," Adam said.
Adam aims to keep everything as cost-effective as he can. He uses Facebook as his main media outlet and has a third-party box at the Lake Zurich UPS store where donations of new Lego sets can be sent. The store is located at 830 W. Route 22, Box 265, Lake Zurich, IL 60047.
To give a monetary donation, visit bricksofhope.givingfuel.com/donate.
"Right now we only pay for the mail box, and we use the dollar donations to buy more sets," Adam said.
For Adam, it is all about giving kids the freedom to escape inside their own imagination and enjoy life, if even for just a little bit.
"The goal is to grow and make sure we are always there," he said.
Bricks of Hope• To donate new Lego sets to Bricks of Hope, ship them to the UPS store in Lake Zurich at 830 W. Route 22, Box 265, Lake Zurich, IL 60047.
• To give a monetary donation, visit bricksofhope.givingfuel.com/donate.
• For more information, email Adam Petraglia at email@example.com or visit facebook.com/bricksofhopeUSA.
• Wild Onion Brewery, 22221 N. Pepper Road in Lake Barrington, will be donating $1 for every pint ordered on Wednesdays in April to the charity as part of its Raise a Pint for Charity initiative.