Extra Life Gamers Help Sick Kids Heal

Categories: Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, Events

Play games. Heal kids.

While playing games may seem like an unlikely way to heal children, that’s what tens of thousands of people of all ages are doing as part of the growing Extra Life gaming culture to support patient care at local children’s hospitals.

In Connecticut, $114,979.06 has been raised this year through board games, online video games, card games, lawn sports and other gaming activities to benefit patients at Connecticut Children’s, a Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

Proceeds from Extra Life gaming marathons—some as long as 24 hours in length—help kids like Emma Duffin who come to Connecticut Children’s for life-saving care.

Playing Games for Kids Like Emma

Emma Duffin, a Connecticut Children’s patient, is a fighter and a cancer survivor. She is pictured here with Harrison Guzman, a member of the Extra Life Guild in Hartford, Connecticut.

“An illness requiring a trip to the Emergency Room is scary enough, but when we rushed our 7-year-old daughter, Emma, to the hospital in April 2014 with strep throat and a 104-degree temperature, we had no idea it was just the first stop on a far more frightening journey,” her mother Allyson recalled.

“After being transferred to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Emma was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Acute Undifferentiated Leukemia,” she said. “As difficult as it was to learn that our child had cancer, there was comfort in knowing that the cancer specialists at Connecticut Children’s would be with us every step of the way.”

Acute Leukemia is a rapidly progressive cancer of the blood that starts in blood-forming tissue. In this type of cancer, the bone marrow produces an abnormally large number of immature white blood cells that enter the bloodstream, replacing normal white blood cells and leaving the body more vulnerable to infection.

In children, Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) are the two most common types of leukemia. In Emma’s case, she had a mixed type with both ALL and AML cells, or blasts, present. The condition required chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant, but Emma was a fighter and today at age 12 is a survivor. [Learn more about Emma’s cancer journey].

Bring on the Games

The Extra Life culture has been alive and well – and thriving – since 2008. Originally designed as a 24-hour gaming marathon, Extra Life has evolved into different formats and platforms, but it has raised an amazing $40 million nationally since its inception and $11 million last year alone to support children’s hospitals.

The patrons of The Portal who stayed and gamed for the full 24 hours for Extra Life on Saturday, November 3.

In Connecticut, people from all walks of life join the fun to benefit patient care at Connecticut Children’s. On November 3, the official day for Extra Life 24-hour gaming marathons, gamers gathered at The Portal – the Time Machine Hobby’s gaming center in Manchester – where they raised $6,000, playing a variety of table-top games. The event brought The Portal’s four-year event total to more than $19,000.“All types of board games are played—from larger social-deduction games to head-to-head strategy games,” said manager Bryan Raddatz. “A few games that have been played most years are Two Rooms and a Boom, Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition, Codenames, Rhino Hero Super Battle, Smash Up and Pandemic.”

“Participation has been amazing,” noted manager Danielle Cleaver. “It is awesome to have all age groups join us for this day to play games for the kids. Each year, it grows more and more,” she said. “Time Machine and The Portal choose to support Extra Life and Connecticut Children’s because this is for the kids and it is a great way to spend family time.”

A Culture of Giving

Gaming enthusiasts at the Microsoft Store’s Extra Life event helped raise more than $600 at its October 28th event, bringing their two-year fundraising total to $3,500.

At the Microsoft Store at Westfarms Mall in West Hartford – where patrons play games like Madden, Forza, Rocket League, Fortnite and NBA 2K – Extra Life fits into the company’s culture of giving. “With community and gaming being a major focus in our store, this aligns right into our goal of impact,” said Duayne Christie, a gaming expert at Microsoft.

On October 28, the Microsoft Store hosted an Extra Life event that brought their two-year support of patient care at Connecticut Children’s to $3,500.

“We also host monthly events at Connecticut Children’s teaching patients coding, digital art, Minecraft and Xbox gameplay,” Christie said. “We recently created an in-store gaming tournament benefitting the Medical Center in which we raised over $600.” (These events are free and all ages are welcome. Visit Microsoft Store at Westfarms Mall, your local store, or online for more information about events taking place in your area.)

Connecticut Children’s patient Gavin Haines poses for a photo with Extra Life Hartford Guild leaders and The Portal event organizers, Tracy DeGrazia and Harrison Guzman.

Other businesses and individuals across the state have also found Extra Life to be a perfect fit in their lives and the perfect way to give back and help others: From the Extra Life Hartford Guild Leadership – Tracy Degrazia, Tim Vincens and Harrison Guzman – who act as “feet-on-the-street,” spreading awareness and helping to get more people to participate by attending and hosting events throughout the year [READ MORE HERE] – to students like Russell Elfont, who helped his Extra Life team at Wooster School in Danbury raise $16,000 last year, bringing the team’s total fundraising efforts to $55,000 since 2012. [READ MORE HERE].

Gavin Haines, 13, a Connecticut Children’s patient, played Illusion with his mother, Stacey, during the Extra Life event at The Portal in Manchester on Saturday, November 3.

And then there are parents, like Albert Dzurka of Fairfield, 43, who want to give back because of the life-saving care their children have received at Connecticut Children’s. Dzurka, who is an Information Technology professional as well as a broadcaster, podcaster and gaming enthusiast, heads up the Extra Life Stream Team known as “The Player’s Club.” Dzurka has personally raised about $10,000 for Connecticut Children’s through Extra Life [READ MORE HERE] and recently live-streamed from the Microsoft Store event on October 28.

Across the state, Extra Life raised an incredible $127,000 for Connecticut Children’s in 2017. Fundraising for 2018 is still ongoing, as Extra Life events will take place through December 31.
No matter the date, no matter the game, it is never too late to give back – or “play” it forward. If you would like to help heal kids by playing games, sign up for Extra Life today!