Bria Schmidt, Ian Slager and Jonathan “Jonny” Slota walked onto Wrigley Field on Monday expecting an on-field experience. When Cubs third baseman Patrick Wilson announced over the jumbotron they’d be going on a free trip to spring training in Arizona, though, Ian had one word to describe how he felt: “shocked.”
“I didn’t see it coming at all,” said Ian of south suburban Monee.
Bria, Ian and Jonny are all patients at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, which teams up with the Chicago Cubs every year to send a few young sports fans to spring training. Their three-day trip to Mesa, Arizona, will include VIP access to training grounds, face time with Cubs players and more for the patients and their families.
“I did not expect any of this. My mouth literally dropped to the ground,” said Bria, of Mount Prospect.
At the stadium, the Cubs provided each patient with a custom Cubs jersey and giant tickets to spring training, and each of them had a player bio displayed on the jumbotron. They fly to Arizona on Feb. 21.
Bria, 16, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymph system, early last year. After about four and a half months of chemotherapy, Bria entered remission in early September.
Bria’s mother, Lainie Schmidt, said she was happy Bria got this opportunity. She said Bria loves sports, “especially the Cubs.”
“You can’t even imagine what it’s like to see your child go through something like that,” Schmidt said. “I’m just really proud of everything that she’s been through and how she held up, and I’m excited for her.”
Ian’s parents, Samantha and Matthew Slager, joined their son on the field Monday. They’d known about the surprise trip since December and said it was “very hard to keep it secret this whole time.”
Ian, 11, was born with Shone’s Complex, a rare disease characterized by multiple heart defects that affect blood flow. He had to undergo a series of surgeries to ensure his heart could pump blood to the rest of his body.
Through tears, Samantha Slager said it “means a lot” for the hospital to gift her family with the trip. Not only will this mark the family’s first trip to spring training, but it will also be Ian’s first airplane ride.
“He’s doing great. You would never know. He’s doing everything, and then some,” she said.
Ian’s condition has brought him back to Advocate for care each summer. He’s been treated by pediatric cardiologist Dr. Andrew Van Bergen his entire life. The doctor joined Ian and his family on the field Monday.
“Any child born with a heart defect is already different from the start,” Van Bergen said. “To make them feel special and important is incredibly important. Their quality of life is paramount to having a good long-term outcome.”
Jonny, 15, has played baseball since he was 8. Now a freshman at St. Patrick High School, the Portage Park resident said he’s most looking forward to meeting left fielder Ian Happ and shortstop Dansby Swanson, his favorite players.
“It’ll be awesome. It’s pretty cool to be out [of the hospital] finally,” he said.
Jonny started treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma at Advocate last summer. He spent 32 days in the hospital. Kidney issues led to Jonny being on dialysis for six days, which his mother, Mary, said compounded the stress of cancer treatment. Jonny is now in remission.
“I’m totally overwhelmed. I’m so happy for him because he’s never been to Arizona,” his mother said. “After everything he’s been through, he totally deserves this and so much more.”
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