Showing support Park Ridge teen raises funds for hospital he believes gave him a second chance at life
Cancer survivor Tommie Colonna of Park Ridge will be speaking at the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk on Nov. 17 at Soldier Field. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
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Find out more about the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk at Chicago’s Soldier Field by visiting www.stjude.org and clicking on “Ways to Help”
Updated: December 16, 2012 6:29AM
PARK RIDGE — When Tommie Colonna was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, doctors gave him just one month to live.
But seven years later and cancer-free, the Park Ridge teenager is happy to show those Chicago doctors that their prognosis was very wrong.
It was treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., that made all the difference, Tommie believes, and showing his support for the medical facility has become part of his life today.
Tommie, 19, and his sister, Paige, 9, will take part in the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Nov. 17. Paige plans to walk in the 5K event which raises awareness and funding for St. Jude, while Tommie will be speaking about his experience as a survivor, something he has done many times in the last few years.
“I’ve never written anything down. I just go up there and tell my story from my heart,” Tommie said of his speeches on behalf of St. Jude he has delivered at a number of fundraisers, including the NBA’s Hoops for St. Jude in Las Vegas.
When he talks to crowds Tommie encourages them to support St. Jude financially, as the hospital is primarily funded through public contributions and provides treatment free of cost.
“I would like people to take away that I’m a living example of what this hospital can do,” he said.
“Every person you talk to means another person who knows and another person who could help by donating to save a child’s life,” added Tommie’s mother, Lisa. “It makes a difference putting a face to a disease and Tommy’s really come a long way as a great spokesperson.”
Tommie was 12 when he was diagnosed with stage four leukemia, requiring chemotherapy, radiation and a stem-cell transplant.
The diagnosis was life-changing for the entire Colonna family. It meant spending months in Memphis while Tommie underwent treatment, frequent return visits for doctors appointments, and a lot of time out of school. It also meant temporarily moving out of the family’s Greenwood Avenue home while it was completely renovated to accommodate Tommie’s compromised immune system.
Though Tommie remains in remission today, treatments that saved his life may have affected the joints in his legs, making it difficult for him to walk without medication and physical therapy. This is only a theory, however, as doctors have been unable to pinpoint the exact cause, Tommie and his mother said.
“He’s not one to dwell,” Lisa Colonna said. “He just tries to keep moving, which is pretty incredible. He’s had the same attitude throughout all of this: just to get it done and move on.”
Now a student at Oakton Community College, Tommie is studying to become a nurse, a vocation he says was influenced by his illness and hospital stays.
“I think I’d be a fitting person to be a nurse,” he said. “I know what makes a good nurse and a bad nurse. I’ve seen what I like. When you’re sick certain things tick you off more than others. I could see who the good nurses were.”
Basketball is also a passion of Tommie’s. It became a large part of his rehabilitation following his cancer treatments and is part of his working life today as Tommie has a part-time job as a Chicago Bulls ball boy.
“It’s fantastic,” he said of the position. “I walk into the locker room and the top players are saying, ‘Hey, Tommie. What’s up?’ There’s nothing better than that, I think.”