He smiled; he hugged; he fist bumped; and Hines Rotriga offered everyone his signature thumbs-up as hundreds of people donated thousands of dollars on Sunday during the second annual Hope for Hines fundraiser at Quaker Steak & Lube.
Unlike last year, this 3-year-old was able to attend this year’s event with his parents, Kevin and Debbie Rotriga, and he was visited by Batman and Bat Girl from Heroes for Higher, entertained by bounce houses and three live bands, and loved by all those in attendance.
And, at the end of the day, more than $14,000 was raised.
“This community constantly amazes me,” said Uncle Dave Rotriga, owner of Miklas Meat Market. “The amount of support that little guy has received from this valley has been incredible. Unbelievable. I just don’t know how to describe it.
“Every single day at the shop nearly every single person asked about him. And the attention he receives on Facebook, in the news, and on the radio is amazing too. And it’s helped. It has all really helped,” he said. “The only thing I can figure out is that Hines is just so easy to love because that’s all he knows how to do.”
On Dec. 26, 2013, Hines was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that forms from immature nerve cells located in many areas of the human body. Neuroblastma most frequently attacks children 5 or younger and can prove fatal.
Being sick is all Hines knows.
“We knew something was wrong because he wasn’t feeling good, and he wasn’t acting like himself,” Debbie explained. “We took him to a doctor, and then to another doctor, and the next thing we know, Hines and I were transported to Morgantown.
“I pray no more parents have to live through the moment when they find out that their child has cancer,” she said. “You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what to do. You just go numb.”
While there are currently no signs of cancer, Debbie and Kevin are well aware that testing and treatments must continue for an undetermined length of time. Still on their schedule are monthly treatments in New York City and visits to Ruby Memorial in Morgantown.
“Right now we’re just happy that he is feeling so well and that he’s able to run around and have fun just like any other 3-year-old can,” Debbie said. “But he still has to travel to New York for a week every month, and there’s always the next test results to worry about at this point.
“We learned a pretty big lesson the last time there weren’t signs because two months later, there were again,” she said. “So we’re taking it all one day at a time, hoping for the very best for our little boy and doing everything we have to do in this whole process.”
Hines spent much of his day in the two bounce houses donated by All Year Inflatables, but he also had the chance to sit in the “Hope Mobile” that was transported from Huntington, W.Va., by Batman and Bat Girl. The food served outside was donated by local residents and businesses, 15 vendors were set up in the parking lot, and the members of three bands – Mirror Mirror, Tongue n’ Cheek, and the Christian Beck Band – all donated their time to perform.
The planning of the event was orchestrated by Quaker Steak’s marketing manager Christine Thomas and general manger Ozzie Hyde. In fact, it was Hyde who stayed up all night Saturday to properly smoke the two donated 100-pound pigs.
“We have a lot of loyal customers, and the Rotrigas have been one of them for a long time,” he said. “If we expect people to keep coming back here, we have to be successful in providing great food, and we have to show our appreciation, and this is just one way we attempt to do that.
“Hines is a fantastic kid, and he’s fighting this cancer very hard. We just want to help him with that fight, and the only thing we can is to offer his mother and father financial assistance by staging these kinds of events,” Hyde continued. “And I give out staff a lot of the credit because they are the ones making and serving the food, and a lot of those who worked the Hines event volunteered to do so even though they don’t work here on Sundays. That says a lot about them, and it says a lot about Hines and the Rotriga family.”
Randy and Kelly Dlesk of Wheeling contributed the grand prize that was raffled off, and Patty Hill won the trip to Disney World. Thirty gift baskets also were also donated by those who participated.
“It’s overwhelming to see all of these people come here for our little guy,” said Kevin. “I know he’s a bit overwhelmed, and I knew Debbie and I are. We just can’t believe the level of support we have received from this community and from people in a lot of other states around the country.
“The people have been great to us, so we are always looking for ways to say thank you and for that appreciation to reach everyone who has helped,” he said. “This year we were able to be here, and everyone has wanted to meet Hines, so that has given both of us a chance to say thank you person to person.”
At this point in time, a very long road of treatment and testing lies before Hines Rotriga and his family; where that path leads them is unknown, and will be for several more years. That is the reality, but, of course, there remains hope for Hines.
“Our dream is to continue having this event every year after Hines is deemed healthy so we can guide this community support to the many other families like ours,” Debbie said. “Before Hines was diagnosed, we had no idea at all how prevalent childhood cancer is today. We had no idea at all. But now that we are directly involved with Hines, we hear about at least one new child per week who has been diagnosed, too.
“I shed a lot of tears because I got to see him playing non-stop and interacting with other children his age. He was overwhelmed, and he clung to the people who he really knows, but I know he had a great time,” she added. “He got to be a kid instead of a patient, and that means everything.”