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Madelyn and Zachary Rodrigues are proud to hold an annual toy drive benefiting patients at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago. (Supplied photos)

Madelyn and Zachary Rodrigues are proud to hold an annual toy drive benefiting patients at Comer Children's Hospital at the University of Chicago. (Supplied photos)

Teen helps others despite brittle bone disease

Family toy drive benefits Comer Children’s Hospital

By Kelly White

Early on in her life, Madelyn Rodrigues was diagnosed with Osteogeneis Imperfects, a brittle bone disease that has already resulted in more than 70 bone fractures in her 14 years of life.

As a freshman at Illinois Lutheran High School in Crete, Madelyn’s inner strength shines outward and she refuses to allow the disease to limit her livelihood. She still actively competes in cheerleading, volleyball and is a photographer for her school’s yearbook. Even with her busy schedule, she is constantly looking for ways to help others.

Madelyn partnered with her brother, Zachary, a sophomore and athlete participating in soccer, basketball and all-conference baseball at Illinois Lutheran High School, to start an annual toy drive benefiting patients at Comer Children’s Hospital at the University of Chicago.

“Personally, this toy drive means a lot to me living with Osteogenesis Imperfecta,” Madelyn, of Monee, said. “As a young person who has suffered a lot of painful breaks, I remember when the doctors or nurses would bring a stuffed animal to me, and they would wrap the stuffed animal with a cast where I had my injury. Those moments brought me comfort because they would say the stuffed animal was just like me. I hope that even one kid feels the same level of comfort I did because of the toys we deliver.”

Zachary’s previous baseball organization started a smaller one and the kids were impacted by the stories they heard about children in the hospital. Last year, the organization did not conduct the toy drive due to the pandemic, so the kids spearheaded one on their own to ensure that the kids had toys for the holidays.

This marks the second year the siblings have taken on the toy drive completely on their own, setting up toy collection boxes at their school. Donations can also made through a self-created Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ZachandMaddyToyDrive2021.

They continue to receive overwhelming support. Last year alone they received more than 1,000 toys. There is never any number of toys expected, as they are just grateful for whatever they can collect for kids who need it most, the siblings said.

The wish list of toys comes directly from the hospital https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/comer/give/donation-wish-lists.

“I enjoy knowing that children who have medical concerns can have a sense of joy during the holiday season, or throughout the year, even though they are in the hospital,” Madelyn said. “Also, the employee at the hospital said that many children who are able to leave at some point insist upon bringing these toys home with them as they have become their new favorite toy because it got them through their toughest time.”

“I enjoy not only hearing stories of the children receiving a gift that they enjoy, but also knowing that this possibly takes away a little stress for the parents,” Zachary said. “By providing toys for the children, the parents can focus on their child’s well-being and treatment, and not have to worry about making sure they find time to shop for Christmas presents.”

Donations will be accepted through early December and delivered to the hospitals on December 4 by the Rodrigues family.

Their father, Jeremy Rodrigues, an English teacher at Shepard High School, has a donation box set up in his classroom at the school in Palos Heights. He said he couldn’t be prouder of his children in their effort to bring others cheer during the holiday season.

“Other than the possible joy that children within the hospitals receive, both Zachary and Madelyn personally like the generosity of strangers who donate to such a worthy cause,” Rodrigues said. “There would be no toy drive without the kindness of strangers.”

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Madelyn and Zachary Rodrigues show off some of the early toy donations they are storing in the family’s garage.

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