As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
Tanner Raboin was pretty much born with an entire lemon tree, as he was diagnosed with Chronic Granulomatous Disease (CGD), a rare inherited immune deficiency, at the age of six-months. Tanner’s bones, skin, lungs, and lymph nodes had to battle every day infections with a compromised immune system. The only possible cure was a bone-marrow transplant.
Tanner fell in love with the Los Angeles Kings at a young age, and frequently attended games with his father, Steve, who has been a season seat holder for seven years. In 2010, Tanner’s condition worsened to the point where he was no longer able to attend games in person. It was at this point that Steve needed a way for his son to be at games, if only in spirit.
Thus, the Tannerhead was born.
Made from a photo cut out of Tanner’s head and a popsicle stick, Tannerheads began popping up at Kings games and events everywhere, becoming somewhat of an icon in the Kings community. Fans quickly became aware of the positively passionate teenager who battled an unfair disease, which he never let define him.
In 2011, the Raboin family facilitated a partnership between the LA Kings and Be the Match, the national marrow donor program that connects patients with their donor matches for life-saving treatments, and on Fan Appreciation Night, over 300 members from the Kings Community registered with Be the Match in hopes of one day, having the chance to save a life.
Tragically, only two days later, on April 11, 2011 Tanner lost his battle with CGD while waiting for a match to be found.
It was from this tragedy that Tannerhead Nation (Tannerhead.com) was created to bring awareness to CGD and encourage people to register with Be the Match. The Tannerhead is the symbol of their mission, and to this day is still spotted regularly throughout the Kings community.
“Basically our goal is to bring people into the registry so ultimately people don’t have to suffer and go through what my son did. Through Tanner’s image, that’s what we’re doing,” said Steve, who resides in Chino Hills.
During the summer of 2012, photographer Chaz Curry stepped forward and donated his time to a project called “The Faces of Los Angeles Kings Fans,” where fans could come and have their photos taken to be part of a video montage, dedicated to Tanner. At each of the photo sessions fans were encouraged to register with Be the Match.
In January, it was announced that through Curry’s project, Be the Match had matched a donor and a patient. Due to confidentiality agreements, the names of both parties cannot be released, but there is a system in place for both donor and patient to reveal themselves to each other further on down the road.
For the Raboin family, it was a huge milestone in keeping Tanner’s legacy and alive, one they definitely want to further. Finding the first match has only made them want to find more.
“The joy for us is our love for Tanner. Just to see how many people who care and how many people want to listen and care through that. To find another match just brings more and more joy to us,” said Tim Raboin, Steve’s brother.
Aside from encouraging people to register with Be the Match, Tannerhead Nation also raises funds to aid the matchmaking process, as the cost to process one registered person is $100.
Using Tanner as their inspiration, the Raboin family, in turn, has begun to inspire awareness and action from the community around them, beginning with the LA Kings.
“Hopefully we can keep the partnership with the Kings going and do that throughout the years to come. To see the amount of people on our family’s behalf is unbelieveably moving,” said Steve, who has been a Kings fan since 1986.
“This world is really on the right track and people do really care.”