'Happy Pads' a boon to sick kids at the Ronald McDonald House

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Two brothers are giving sick children a much-needed distraction with endless entertainment they can hold in the palms of their hands.

James and Christian Delligatti have raised thousands of dollars to provide iPads for patients and families staying at the Ronald McDonald House through a program called Lilli's Happy Pad.

“We've been extremely surprised at the response,” says James, 18, who will be a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School in the fall. Christian, 16, will be a junior.

Serving as inspiration for the program is the boys' cousin, Lilli Curry of Houston, Texas. In 2011, doctors diagnosed Lilli with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Knowing she'd need a way to pass the long hours of treatment and some much-needed distraction, her cousins shipped iPads to her and her brother, Chas, 10.

“The iPads were very important,” says Lilli, now 12 and in remission. “It distracted me from treatment. When you're focused on the iPad, you're not focused on anything else — like needles and stuff.”

The boys got to work in the fall, and raised $13,000 for the program — $8,000 in cash donations from family and friends and $5,000 in grant funds from the Snee-Reinhardt Charitable Foundation. They also secured support from the Apple Store in Ross Park Mall, which will provide technical support and discounted bulk apps.

“It's wonderful to see the next generation giving back to support the families we serve,” says Eleanor Reigel, Ronald McDonald House Charities executive director.

The house provides a home-away-from-home for families who travel to Pittsburgh seeking medical treatment for their children. The local house is connected to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and provides fully equipped one-bedroom apartments, a communal dining room, kitchen, living room, laundry facility and family center.

“What's not to love about a place that touches so many people every day from all parts of the world?” says the boys' father, Michael Delligatti, whose own father, Jim, co-founded the local charity. Michael is a board member and his wife, Twilley, has chaired numerous fundraising events on behalf of the charity.

Jim Delligatti also happens to be the man behind one of McDonald's most popular menu items. He invented the Big Mac in the late ‘60s.

“He's very excited about the project,” says James, with a laugh. Both brothers have worked at the McDonald's in Cranberry.

On July 11, the Delligattis visited the Ronald McDonald House equipped with the 21 iPads they've already bought. They plan to raise funds for 40 more. The loaning library will let house guests access music, games, movies, books and other entertainment and education options. The long-term plan is to extend the program to 300-plus Ronald McDonald Houses around the world. Lilli, whose cousins describe her as “very positive, always happy,” participated in the launch via video conference from her own iPad.

Within seconds after the Delligatti brothers passed out the iPads to a group of children and their families, screens and faces lit up as the kids swiped away, discovering games, music and more.

For Jeff and Amy Patterson, the iPads are a blessing for their two sons, Christopher, 5, and Sean, 10. The family from Bridgeport, W.Va., spend two to five days every month at the home. Sean has a primary immunodeficiency disease, and Christopher is suspected to have the same condition. That means lots of time away from home ,dealing with infusions and other long procedures.

“Hospital time is slow time,” says Amy Patterson. “For children, it's very boring. The kids are huge into technology. This gives them something to occupy their time.”

For James and Christian, delivering the iPads was a perfect way to continue their families efforts to help sick kids.

“We're very excited,” says James. “I can't think of a better way to spend a day.”

To make a donation to Lilli's Happy Pad, visit www.rmhcpgh.org or call 412-362-3400.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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