Why We Run

Each year, we walk and run for children battling pediatric brain tumors kids like Benny. Read his story to learn how your fundraising will make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

Benny Martinez Pation Champion

Benny: A champion with a generous heart

A little over a year ago, students at Benny Martinez’s suburban Chicago middle school participated in a contest to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which raises funds for pediatric cancer research — including research at Lurie Children’s. Benny was the top fundraiser in his 6th grade class, and third in the entire school. He acquired a new look at one of St. Baldrick’s signature head-shaving events, where he was recognized for his fundraising efforts.

Less than two weeks later, Benny was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

“It was like something you would see in a movie,” says Benny’s mom, Michelle. “It was incredibly hard to believe.”

Benny is this year’s patient champion for the Young Associates Board’s Run for Gus Run/Walk to raise funds for brain tumor research at Lurie Children’s. He was on a family vacation in Orlando last year when he experienced a severe headache and vomiting — a combination of symptoms he had experienced periodically, but not to this extent. In fact, Michelle says he was scheduled to undergo an MRI scan after the family returned home from Florida.

Benny was brought to the emergency department of an Orlando children’s hospital, where a CT scan indicated Benny had a mass at the base of his skull. Just 24 hours later, he underwent surgery to remove the mass, a relatively rare, fast-growing form of brain tumor called medulloblastoma. Two weeks later, Benny was flown by medical transport back to Chicago, and began care at Lurie Children’s under the supervision of neuro-oncologist Natasha Pillay Smiley, DO.

“Dr. Pillay Smiley and her team have been wonderful,” says Michelle. “She’s been a real cheerleader for Benny, as has his advanced practice nurse, Irene McKenzie.”

The boy who showed so much compassion for other cancer patients has faced numerous challenges due to complications from both the surgery to remove his tumor and side effects from his treatments, which have included radiation and chemotherapy. Currently, 12-year-old Benny has limited use of his left side, uses a wheelchair to get around and has difficulty speaking clearly. But his generous spirit remains undiminished.

“I’m proud to be the Run for Gus patient champion,” says Benny. “It’s important to raise money for pediatric brain tumor research so other kids don't have to go through what I’ve gone through.”