HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- St. Louis Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is focusing on the start of training camp, but he's also is helping his family with an initiative in hopes of finding a cure for cancer.
Pietrangelo's niece, Ellie, is 8 years old and is a survivor of Wilms' tumor, a form of cancer that develops in the kidneys of children. He's helping the family raise money and awareness by selling shirts that say, "Fight like Ellie."
The money raised will help with the development of a new trial drug for children who relapse with the disease in honor of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month.
"My sister-in-law got in touch with someone who is working with a doctor on a new trial drug," Pietrangelo said. "It's for kids that do relapse. Part of the funds, what we try to do is it goes to that, but the other half is, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law help sponsor families that pay their bills and help pay their medical bills. When your kid is sick, there's a lot more that goes into it. We've been through it. I've seen the insurance bills and medical bills, they pile up quick. If there's a way that we can help out with those families, trust me, it goes a long way to help them function on a normal basis.
"Part of it is going to fund this trial drug, which obviously takes a lot of money, but part of it is we're helping some families that we know that have gone through, not so much having the Wilms' tumor like Ellie had but just cancer in general."
Adult shirts cost $18 and youth shirts cost $15, and can be purchased here.
Pietrangelo, the captain of the Blues, watched Ellie go through chemotherapy and radiation. She is now in remission.
"She's good, but you do chemo, you do radiation, you do all that, it takes a long time to recover from that," Pietrangelo said. "... She's still working on walking the right way and she's still working on being able to go to physical therapy. There's a lot of stuff my brother-in-law and sister-in-law have to deal with. As good as she's doing, it's a long road to recovery. She's still young. Thank goodness she recovered, but at that age, it's not easy to go through something like that."
Pietrangelo said that the injuries hockey players deal with are nothing in comparison to what kids like Ellie deal with on a daily basis.
"You don't even compare the two," he said. "There's nothing that can ... any struggle that I'll have on the ice doesn't compare what these kids go through. You go through it, it really puts things in perspective. We have tough days and it's not always going to be your best day, but some of these kids wake up every day and it's a bad day. One smile on their face and just doing every little bit that we can. It goes a long way more than what people think it does.
"I've teamed up with Friends of Kids with Cancer, too. They've done a lot to help with kids, not only in St. Louis but everywhere to try and simplify their lives. Make a day for these kids as normal as possible. It's not as easy as people think. You've got to raise as much funds as you can to try and get these kids what they want to get their mind off it because we think it's a grind here every day, it's about a third of what these kids have to go through."
Pietrangelo said every dollar raised helps.
"The ultimate goal is to find a cure," Pietrangelo said. "That's everybody's goal, right? We're pushing and everyone's trying to push to find one because this something that not only affects the kids but adults as well. I think adults just understand it a little bit more. I think for us, what we went through is trying to explain to a 6-year-old what cancer is. If we can find something that's going to help them, you have to do it to hopefully avoid the repercussions of radiation and all that. It's going to be a dream come true."