CHICAGO — Bradley Godish was having the time of his life Sunday.
A 4-year-old boy from Elgin, Ill., with wispy blond hair, Bradley beamed and giggled as basketball players towered over him and made him the center of attention during a visit to a downtown Ronald McDonald House.
Bradley, who stands 37 inches tall and celebrates his fifth birthday this week, is recovering from a stem cell transplant and chemotherapy treatments that combat acute myeloid leukemia, a disease that produces abnormal white blood cells and crowds out healthy ones.
But he was healthy enough to meet and play with several members of McDonald’s High School All-American teams set to compete in a United Center doubleheader later this week.
“He’s adorable, he has a great little personality,” said Sophie Cunnigham, a 6-1 guard from Columbia, Mo. “I know he’s going through something a little rough, but that’s why we’re here — to make those kids feel special.”
Cunningham, bound next year for the University of Missouri, got on her knees and formed a wide hoop with her arms, encouraging Bradley to shoot and stuff the ball. They later exchanged passes and Cunningham also showed him some tricky, between-the-legs dribbles.
Bradley was among dozens of kids who met and interacted with the All-Americans during a two-hour visit.
For many of the high school stars — all blessed with good health and exceptional physical skills — meeting sick kids was enlightening.
“This is a huge eye-opener,” Cunningham said. “I was just at the hospital, four of us went there. I teared up a little bit just knowing what these kids don’t get to go experience and what they have to go through. … It’s sad, but at the same time it’s an inspiration for me. I’m playing and praying for Bradley.”
The Godish family’s life was turned upside down last fall when Bradley was diagnosed with leukemia. Since then it’s been a series of doctor’s visits, hospital stays, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
Brad’s twin sister supplied the stem cell. The family also has an 8-month old son.
The Godish family lives about 40 miles northwest of Chicago, but Ronald McDonald House offered a convenient and free place to stay while Bradley undergoes treatment at the nearby Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.
“Welcome to our home away from home,” Bradley’s father, Brian Godish, told the prep stars, seated at tables in a third-floor dining area. “You guys are All-Americans on the court and I hope you’ll be All-Americans off the court as well and I hope this isn’t your last time at a Ronald McDonald House.”
Chase Jeter, a 6-10 Duke recruit from Las Vegas, quickly came up to father and son following Brian Godish’s remarks. Jeter then lifted Bradley with his long arms and cradled him as the three posed for a photo.
“His story was inspirational,” said Jeter. “It made me grateful for everything I had. Seeing a family like that and hearing their story was motivational for me, too.”
The Ronald McDonald House is an annual stop on the McDonald’s All-American agenda, part of a busy schedule for 48 McDonald’s All-Americans — 24 boys and 24 girls — plus coaches and support staff.
The East and West teams went through their first practices early Sunday morning for the mid-week clash at 20,000-seat home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks.
“For the kids and the families this is a big day for them,” said Jim De Maria, vice president of development for the Chicagoland Ronald McDonald houses. “It’s also a big day for the players. … With the All-American kids coming here to meet the kids and the families staying at the house it takes their minds off of what they’re going through.”
The 15-story downtown Ronald McDonald House — among five in the Chicago area — is steps away from Michigan Avenue in a busy area with residential and business high rises plus restaurants and entertainment.
The three-year-old facility is open 24 hours daily, features 13 staff members and 400 active volunteers. The neighborhood is also home to several medical facilities, including the Lurie Children’s Hospital located just four blocks away.
Net proceeds from Wednesday’s game directly benefits the charity, which has raised an estimated $11 million since starting with a single home in 1974 in Philadelphia.
There are now 178 Ronald McDonald Houses in the United States and 345 worldwide offering free accommodations and services to sick children and families.
“I can speak from experience from being here (on) the comfort, the care and the hope that we received here,” Brian Godish told the players. “If nothing else over the last five months we’ve learned not to take anything for granted. Experiences like these we’ll remember the rest of our lives and we hope you guys will too.”