Quantifying Hope: New ‘Teddy Cub’ T-Shirts Support Shriners Hospitals

This column is typically reserved for notes on the Cubs’ playoff odds, whether according to computer simulation or Vegas estimates, but such content is sort of irrelevant at this point. And since we just ran something on the Cubs’ strength of schedule in a shortened season, I had to go in a different direction entirely. Given the topic, I’m glad I did.

As many frequent readers probably know already, my daughter, Addison, recently spent several weeks as an inpatient at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis. She was born with a severe case of scoliosis that had progressed to the point that she needed surgery to alleviate constant pain, decreased lung capacity, and chronic gastrointestinal issues. We had known for several years that surgery might be the only option, but the treatment was neither simple nor quick.

A 3D computer image of Addison’s spine pre-surgery.

Due to the extreme nature of her spinal deformity, which had developed into an S-curve with dual 86-degree bends, she had to undergo 6 weeks of halo gravity traction in order to prep for eventual surgery. That meant having a titanium horseshoe implanted in her skull via six screws, then hanging an increasing amount of weight to a pulley system attached to the halo. By the time she was ready for surgery, I believe she was at 33-35 pounds.

Oh, she also had weight attached while sleeping, though only half of what she carried around when upright. She got a little taller as her spine “unwound,” a process that made the subsequent procedures easier and less taxing on her body. As you can see from the image to the left, however, portions of her spine had been fused together as a result of the curvature and would need to be surgically separated.

The end result was a dual-stage procedure, apparently the first that had been performed at this particular location, to straighten and strengthen the spinal column. After making a series of cuts to free up some of those fused sections of bone, the surgeon implanted 22 fixation points and a temporary titanium rod. A week later, he replaced the first rod and two of the screws with two permanent rods. All told, Addison underwent something like 16 hours of surgery and grew two inches or so.

This x-ray image shows the rods and screws.

Amazingly, she was up and walking the day after her second surgery and was discharged two days after that. It wasn’t fun or easy by any stretch and the pain was almost too much for her to bear at times. Until now, I’d forgotten just how scary it was to hear her crying out in the middle of the night that she’d rather be dead than hurting that badly. That all eased pretty quickly, though, and we weaned her off of the oxy after a couple weeks.

From that point, it’s been all about getting stronger and regaining flexibility in her shoulders, particularly the right one. Due to its proximity to her spine, Addison’s shoulder blade had actually become fused via a bone bridge. The worst part was actually her ribs, which were realigned by the surgery, resulting in severe discomfort as all the muscles and cartilage got used to new positions.

Now, a little over 4 months removed from surgery, she reports no pain whatsoever outside of the occasional muscle strains from exertion. She’s still got scars on her forehead from the “pins” of the halo, not to mention the incision on her back, and she complains that her shoulders are asymmetrical, plus there’s a bit of a hump at the top of her spine. I don’t think some of those insecurities will ever go away, but she understands the trade-off compared to how many issues have been alleviated.

Remember the GI troubles that resulted in several different daily prescriptions and two separate endoscopies? Those were gone almost immediately. Her lung capacity has improved as well and I’m amazed by the way her gait has changed. She can even kick herself in the butt with her heels, something that was never possible before. It’s incredible.

Two of the temporary screws from Addison’s spine.

Just as incredible was our experience with Shriners and the dozens of people who supported us throughout our time there. Addison was constantly receiving packages from friends and strangers, many of whom were Cubs fans who knew me from CI or my other Cubs-related ventures. It didn’t hurt that this was all going down in St. Louis.

Through the generosity of friends and family, we were not only able to make her time in the hospital as comfortable as possible, but we were able to make several donations as well. From books and board games to an iPad and three specialized walkers, Addison left a legacy that will impact countless children and families who follow in her footsteps.

As we were getting ready for her discharge, we saw a 6-year-old boy who’d just been fitted with his halo. He was the first to use one of the new walkers. Then when we returned for Addison’s checkup, a little girl was using another of the walkers. Damn, someone in my house just started cutting onions.

Fast-forward to a couple weeks ago, when the folks at 26 Shirts contacted me to see if I’d be interested in helping to design a Cubs-adjacent shirt that would benefit Shriners. After seeing how they’d gotten behind CI’s Michael Canter, I jumped at the chance. The way it works is they design limited edition sports-themed t-shirts every two weeks, after which the design is retired and never sold again. Each shirt benefits a specific charity, with up to $8 from each sale being donated, so I’m hoping to generate at least $576 in total.

After spitballing a few ideas, we settled on the one you see in the featured image, a mashup of the Shriner’s teddy bear mascot sans fez and the Cubs’ 1908-era logo. I’m a little biased, but I think it’s pretty badass. The shirts are available now and can be purchased in a variety of sizes and styles, so get yours while they last. And in honor of hitting $750,000 in total donations, shipping is free on all orders of $75 or more.

I understand that this is a tough time for a lot of people and that extra purchases of any amount may be difficult to make, but I do want everyone out there to know how much it has meant to me and my family to know that you thought about us or prayed for us. I’m just glad Addison got to experience a little bit of normalcy by getting back to school and being with her friends for a while before the world turned upside-down again. Take care and be well.

This was shortly after Addison had her halo implanted, so the smile is a little fake. The tattoo, however, is real.
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