Fraternity Brothers Bring Welcome Fun, Distraction to a Boy with Leukemia

Fraternity Brothers Bring Welcome Fun, Distraction to a Boy with Leukemia

Ronald Hogas, now cancer free, looked forward to hospital visits from 'the boys'

Ronald Hogas
Ronald Hogas and his sister, Sophia, with Sigma Chi's Nevin O'Kane, left, and PJ Scandariato at an RU4Kids lunch provided by Embrace Kids in New Brunswick.
Photo: Courtesy of Mihaela Hogas

'When I was in the hospital, that was the best thing to look forward to, besides getting out. When they’d walk in, it was, yay, fun time now!'
 
– Ronald Hogas, age 10

No matter how bad a day Ronald Hogas was having – and there were many bad days during nearly five years of leukemia treatments – he always was up for seeing “the boys.” And the boys, Rutgers Sigma Chi fraternity members who often visited Ronald when he was in the Bristol-Myers Squibb Children's Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, always made a bad day better just by being there.

Whether in RWJ for a scheduled chemotherapy session or being rushed there when a fever spiked due to infection, “the only thing he would ask when we got to the hospital was, ‘Are the boys coming to see me?’ ” said Mihaela Hogas, 10-year-old Ronald’s mom.

The answer was always yes. 

Sigma Chi connected with the Hogas family through RU4Kids, which, working with the Rutgers University Dance Marathon and Embrace Kids Foundation, connects student groups participating in the dance marathon with patients and families. This past school year, 65 Rutgers organizations and families were connected, said Kanika Sachdeva, who led the RU4Kids Dance Marathon program.

Students directly interact with children being treated for cancer, sickle cell disease and other blood disorders in New Brunswick hospitals. “The program really makes a difference in the lives of both the families and students,” Sachdeva said.

Sometimes the fraternity brothers would just sit and keep Ronald company. Other times, they’d watch Jeopardy as he quietly looked on. Before long, they were playing Minecraft and other computer games together, strategizing higher scores.

“When I was in the hospital, that was the best thing to look forward to, besides getting out,” said Ronald, now in remission and attending school. “When they’d walk in, it was, ‘yay, fun time now!’ I’d show them my DS games and stuff.”

Two weeks before Ronald’s 6th birthday, the Chesterfield boy was more tired than usual and his lymph nodes were swollen. After a few unproductive visits to his pediatrician, Mihaela insisted on some bloodwork. The results revealed leukemia, and chemotherapy started immediately after a biopsy. More chemotherapy followed, along with complications from chickenpox, ICU stints, more chemotherapy, a major relapse, and then finally immunotherapy and a bone marrow transplant at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Nearly a year post-transplant, Ronald is in remission and feeling good.

The chance to take a breath and look back in gratitude led Mihaela to write a beautiful letter to Rutgers University officials about what the many visits, text messages, parties and thoughtful presents, including a Wii U gaming console, from Sigma Chi brothers meant to Ronald – to all of them. Visits from Matthew Piatkowski, Anthony Corrao, PJ Scandariato and many others cut through the long, boring, often-painful days for Ronald.

“Our home was an hour away so his friends couldn’t come to visit him. He felt alone, and he’d had enough of mom and dad,” Mihaela said. “He thought that was the coolest thing – to be able to have the students come to see him.”

Ronald Hogas and Sigma Chi friends
Rutgers Sigma Chi fraternity members visit Ronald Hogas in Robert Wood Johnson Hospital.
Photo: Courtesy of Mihaela Hogas
Last year, Ronald, his sister, Sophia, and his parents went to the dance marathon. There, they also met Anthony Corrao’s parents. “I got to tell them, ‘you have a wonderful boy,’ “ Mihaela said. “It was amazing for us to see the commitment of these boys. They always responded to our texts, were always asking about Ronald and they were always so polite.”

They were spontaneous, too, showing up one day in the fall of 2013 during the fraternity’s Derby Days fundraising with their heads shaven in honor of Ronald, who was at Robert Wood Johnson after his serious relapse.

“When they came in, Ronald was asleep,” Mihaela recalled. “When he opened his eyes, they took their hats off, he looked around, and went back to sleep but he had to look again. It was priceless. I think that gave him so much strength.”

Some of the guys, including Piatkowski, even traveled to Ronald’s Burlington County home on his 9th birthday. “We just had a connection,” Corrao said. While he misses seeing Ronald, the Rutgers University-New Brunswick junior and marketing major said he’s so glad his health is holding strong.

One sunny spring day, Corrao was outside of Brower Commons on College Avenue getting his head shaved (again) for a Sigma Chi fundraiser for the Children’s Miracle Network. The fraternity has adopted a 9-year-old “little brother,” Nico, who is undergoing treatment for leukemia.

Corrao knew long before arriving at Rutgers that he would be devoting time and raising money for kids like Ronald. When he was younger, his cousin had brain cancer and a fraternity adopted him. “I always wanted to pay it forward,” he said.


For media inquiries, please contact Dory Devlin at ddevlin@ucm.rutgers.edu