Logan Schoenhardt will be remembered by most Americans for two things – first, his courageous seven-year battle with brain cancer, distilled neatly into a moving 11-minute and 45-second profile on ESPN’s E:60 about his love of the New England Patriots, and second, a devotion to Tom Brady so great that in advance of his sixth and final brain surgery at age 10, he requested that his surgeon carve the NFL player’s uniform number (12) into his skull.
The ESPN segment propelled the family’s story into the national spotlight, spreading virally on YouTube. It also provided Logan with an opportunity to meet Brady, his hero, in person in December 2016. But Matt and Jo Schoenhardt, who lost their son to cancer in 2017, wanted Logan’s legacy to be greater than football or a number. “I needed to take his death [as a reason] to create something good,” Matt says. “It was part of my grieving process.”
So last year, the Schoenhardts created Logan’s Foundation for Childhood Cancer, a nonprofit charitable foundation, to raise money to help ease the financial burdens that can cripple families battling childhood cancer, and can be as life-altering as the cancer diagnosis itself. In fact, according a report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, hospital stays for pediatric cancer are, on average, eight days longer than for other pediatric conditions and cost nearly $40,000 per stay – more than five times the cost of other medical conditions. And those are simply the hospital costs.
“The diagnosis of [childhood] cancer has a psychological and social toll in itself,” says Shannon Grad, senior director of Family Experience and Professional Practice at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where Logan often received treatment. “We can’t expect a family to be able to work or live the lives they previously did before the diagnosis and potential treatment ramifications. Their whole world comes to a standstill.”
The Schoenhardts understand the sacrifices and hardships of cancer firsthand, including the stress on a family’s budget. While they had a major medical policy that covered many of Logan’s medical expenses – including countless rounds of radiation and chemotherapy – they still grappled with co-pays and the out-of-pocket expenses for certain cancer-related prescriptions since doctors first discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor on Logan’s brain at the age of 3.
The family was fortunate to have an outpouring of volunteer and financial support from their church and Logan’s school, The Master’s School in Simsbury, along with a network of friends who provided gas cards, paid electric bills and bought food for the family. Such support helped the Schoenhardts survive on Matt’s income and allowed Jo to stay with Logan during every step of his journey, including extended stays in Boston at times for advanced proton radiation treatments. It also became the model of support upon which the Schoenhardts created Logan’s Foundation.
“We want to help ease the financial burdens for a family suffering with childhood cancer,” Matt says. Some families, he says, can’t afford to have one parent stay home with their child because they both have to work. “If our foundation can help a family with its monthly budget and allow them to take time off from work to spend time with their child, that’s the goal.”
And it’s not just the necessities like heating and electric bills that are important, Jo says. She points to some of the “adventures” she and Logan took to the Connecticut Science Center, Mystic Aquarium and Boston’s Museum of Science. “I would often take Logan, who loved dinosaurs and animals and had a natural curiosity, to these places.” The gas, parking and admission fees cost money that they could scarcely afford, “but those are the types of activities and fun, when the days are so hard, that make life bearable.”
To raise the funds to help other families, the Schoenhardts held their foundation’s inaugural Reindeer Ball in Simsbury last December. It was an upbeat celebration incorporating many of the things in life that Logan loved – Christmas, Star Wars, toys, fun. “It’s a black-tie event but everyone was given either a Santa hat or reindeer antlers to wear,” Matt says. “It needed to have an element of silliness that Logan would have liked.”
Several local businesses provided sponsorships and in-kind contributions, including Necker’s Toyland in Simsbury, where Jo used to take Logan to cheer him up after treatments. Necker’s provided a gift bag of small toys that Logan would have liked, for event guests to enjoy.
The event helped raise $70,000 for the foundation, which is now in the process of selecting a family of a child being treated for cancer at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. “Families may apply and, to start, we will select one family to help,” Matt says. The monthly financial support through Logan’s Foundation will remain a constant for the chosen family until their child’s cancer is in remission for a set period of time.
The Schoenhardts hope to eclipse last year’s fundraising total at this year’s ball, scheduled for Saturday, December 8 at The Riverview in Simsbury. The event, featuring a cocktail hour, dinner and dancing, is focused on fun. “It’s not a somber event at all, but we hope people are inspired to make a monthly contribution, which is how we will be able to make our support to a family sustainable,” Matt says, noting that the goal is to eventually help additional families. The oncology center at Connecticut Children’s provides care to more than 100 newly diagnosed cancer patients each year.
One of last year’s Reindeer Ball attendees was Dr. Jon Martin, the neurosurgeon who etched Brady’s number 12 onto Logan’s skull. Dr. Martin, chief of neurosurgery at Connecticut Children’s, hopes Logan’s Foundation will help people appreciate the daily grind that childhood cancer families endure.
“What people focus on in Logan’s story is the number 12, a single event during his care,” he says. “But the story of Logan means a lot more to me than just the number 12.”
While the E:60 profile did mention Logan’s multiple surgeries, radiation and bouts of chemotherapy, Dr. Martin says, most people can’t relate to the stress of the daily responsibilities and care required. “I treat patients whose parents are working two jobs for survival and can’t be at the hospital [as often as they’d like]. To have to make that kind of choice is horrific, but it’s often the reality.”
Childhood cancer survival rates have risen dramatically over the past 40 years, from nearly 58 percent in the mid-1970s to more than 80 percent today (accounting for all types of cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. Achieving that improved outcome often requires children to be subjected to more treatments, so opportunities to boost a patient’s morale are important, Dr. Martin says.
He’s happy that his now-famous #12 craftsmanship, in part, set in motion Logan’s opportunity to meet the famed Patriots quarterback. “I was initially caught off guard with the request, but it was in line with who Logan was,” Dr. Martin recalls. “I feel good that it helped create some fun experiences for him and was a great story for a lot of people.”
The Schoenhardts are eternally grateful for the experiences that the New England Patriots – and their star quarterback – afforded their son. In addition to Logan being honorary team captain for the team’s December 4, 2016 game vs. the Rams, he and his family got to meet the Patriots’ first Super Bowl team (which was honored at halftime), hold the Patriots’ Super Bowl trophies and spend time in the office of team owner Robert Kraft.
“Logan was beyond overjoyed,” Jo recalls. “The Patriots are a wonderful organization, and when you meet Robert Kraft, you are [treated like] family.” And then, of course, was number 1 on Logan’s bucket list – meeting number 12 himself.
“Tom was amazing and spent a lot of time with Logan,” Matt says. Brady posed for photos and signed a football, which Logan – always thinking of others, his parents explain – gave to his best friend, Andrew.
On February 5, 2017, trailing 28-3 late in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI, the Patriots – facing a less than one-percent statistical likelihood of winning their fifth Lombardi trophy – mounted the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, cementing Tom Brady’s legacy as arguably the greatest of all time. It was the last Patriots game Logan ever saw; he passed away one week later – on February 13, 2017.
But with a foundation created in memory of their son, who spent most of his life facing a much tougher opponent than an NFL superstar, the Schoenhardts want Logan’s own legacy to be about giving back. “With the money we’re raising, we’re going to help families in a sustainable way for years to come,” Matt says. “Logan would be happy to know we’re doing that.”
To view ESPN’s E60 video about Logan, support the 2018 Reindeer Ball, or make a monthly contribution to support the financial needs of a Connecticut family fighting childhood cancer, please visit logansfoundationforchildhoodcancer.org.
Matt Broderick lives in Simsbury and regrets that he never got to meet Logan in person. He’s sure, given their mutual love of the Patriots, Tom Brady and Stars Wars, that they would have been fast friends.