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Play It Forward – Bringing Happiness to Hospitalized Kids

Monday, November 22, 2021

A year ago our Founder and President, Jeremy Stroud, came into the office with news no parent wants to share: his son had been diagnosed with cancer. Just 10 years old at the time, Luke would need surgery. He went into Levine Children’s Hospital in January 2021 and came out not only cancer-free but also deeply moved. Luke was on a mission.  

Starlight Children's Foundation

Now, Luke is well on his way to raising $20,000 for the Starlight Children’s Foundation. It’s a contribution that has the power to purchase four custom-built Starlight Gaming consoles for the hospital – and to let the kids experiencing overnight and long-term stays to just be kids.

The whole Independent Insurance Associates team is proud of all that Luke has accomplished, and we are delighted to share his story.

Err On the Side of Caution

Starlight Children's Foundation

It started with a two inch lump on Luke’s cheek, just in front of his ear and along his jawline. His mom, Susan, noticed it first. Was it a spider bite? A flag football run-in? A forgotten scratch? But any of those things would have some bruising or discomfort associated with it, and Luke had no pain or tenderness.   

Something was off, so Susan persisted. By the grace of God, she was able to get a same-day appointment at the pediatrician – during a pandemic, no less. In hindsight, Susan sees that she was guided that day. And for good reason: the lump turned out to be follicular lymphoma, a slow-growing cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

“If you have any doubt at all – get it checked, just in case,” Susan implores. “Listen to your gut!”

Lucky Luke

Following diagnosis, Luke was scheduled for outpatient surgery in January 2021. It was complicated; the tumor was located inside a salivary gland (parotid gland) and was tangled within three critical facial nerves. The surgeons had to practice extreme caution in order to avoid facial paralysis. After two and half grueling hours, the tumor was removed without incident and Luke was cleared to go home. The Strouds breathed a collective sigh of relief. 

Starlight Children's Foundation

Susan shares: “There are so many children that are not as lucky as Luke. Being a kid can be hard sometimes, but being a sick kid is hard ALL the time.”

Luke’s experience at Levine made a major impression on him. Whereas his cancer journey was relatively short and his intervention thankfully successful, a lot of kids in that same hospital were facing a very different reality. He put his 11-year-old-self in their shoes and thought about what might have helped him feel a little better if his treatment had looked more like theirs. 

The answer was obvious: video games.

Player One Has Entered the Game

Could Luke really make gaming accessible to the kids at Levine? Susan took the question to her network, and in short order got just the answer the Strouds were looking for: Starlight Children’s Foundation. 

The Starlight Children’s Foundation has partnered with Nintendo for over 35 years to specifically manufacture mobile gaming stations that meet strict infection safety protocols. The Foundation believes that happy kids heal faster, and that video games provide the perfect outlet for entertainment, distraction, fun, and anxiety relief. As Tara Millspaugh, Starlight Community Relations Senior Manager, explains:

When a child is in the hospital, nothing is familiar. The walls are bare, you’re away from the comfort of your own home – and many children are facing increased isolation and fear, with many hospitals limiting visitations to one guest per patient during COVID. When a nurse or a doctor wheels in a colorful Starlight Gaming station, their eyes light up. Kids can play on it for hours, it’s a conversation starter, and a way to get kids to cooperate with treatments.

In 2021, these Starlight Gaming units in 800 health care facilities come preloaded with more than 25 games, from Super Mario Party to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Each one-of-a-kind unit also comes with the hefty price tag of $5,000. To procure four for Levine Children’s Hospital, Luke would need to raise $20,000. 

Luke had already defied odds this year; he was up for the challenge. The quest began.

Starlight Children's Foundation

Off to the Races

With the help of his parents, Luke spread word of his big idea far and wide. He emailed the link to his Starlight campaign page to family and friends, posted it on social media, and threw the first pitch at a Dixie Youth baseball game to increase awareness. Generous donations and heartfelt feedback came flooding in:

Way to go Luke! You have a fighting spirit and giving heart! Looking forward to seeing all of the big things ahead for you!

It says a lot about a young man who takes what he has gone through to help make others experience better. Keep it up!

Luke, I am so proud of you! Your love for others in the midst of your own battle is an inspiration for us all. The Lord is clearly guiding you and will continue to be with you every step of the way.

Luke you are a hero and a brave brave boy! Sending love to you all. What a great way to share the love by helping others! 

So proud of your giving spirit. I knew when I met you on your first day of first grade how very special you are! Love you lots!

In the 10 months since launch, Luke has raised more than $11,000 – enough to fund two gaming stations – and he’s not done yet. He will continue to collect donations through Starlight, and this spring the Strouds will participate in a clay shoot with proceeds going to Luke’s campaign.

Starlight Children's Foundation

Ripple Effect

Luke’s commitment to finishing what he started will not only have a profound and long-standing effect on countless kids from throughout the region, but also on Luke. The road that led him to Levine … his desire to do something positive for others … the tremendous outpouring of love and support he’s received — all at age 11 — has had a direct impact on Luke’s character development. 

Luke has witnessed a series of events some never experience. Bravely telling his story and using his voice has led to action, and it’s empowering. The collective influence of his community is staggering – and humbling. And the ability to make a difference for something so close to his heart is intensely inspiring. 

When Luke’s campaign inevitably hits goal and closes, the Starlight Children’s Foundation will continue to “deliver happiness to seriously ill kids” in the Carolinas and across the country. Locally, the Foundation hopes to contribute four gaming stations, five virtual reality headsets, and 2,000 hospital gowns to both Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital and Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital. Luke’s on top of gaming at Levine, another family is working on gowns at Hemby, and the ripples keep on coming

Want to join Luke’s team? Make a tax-deductible donation to his campaign (Tax ID 95-3802159)! On behalf of the Strouds and the Independent Insurance Associates family, thank you for your interest in Luke’s cause – we are so appreciative.