There’s a big difference between living with “no evidence of disease” and enjoying remission from cancer, and that is something the Rotriga family tries to convey when they get the chance.
Their son, Hines, has not yet been cured, but his health is much improved today from what it was at times during the child’s four-year-plus battle against Neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms from immature nerve cells located in many areas of the human body. “Bad cookies” is how Hines explains his disease to others, and during his fight he’s looked sick, he’s acted sick, and his exhaustion from countless treatments and constant travel to Morgantown and New York City has been obvious. It is a cancer that most frequently attacks children under the age of 5 and has proven fatal.
But for some time now, he’s been Hines instead.
“For the first time in a long time, yes, we’ve been able to see our son be our little boy again, that rambunctious child who loves to play, have fun, and laugh and laugh,” his mother, Debbie Rotriga, explained. “We know we’re not finished; we know there are more trips, and that’s fine as long as he’s fine; and we’ve been blessed with the greatest family and with the most wonderful community that have supported him.
“The older he gets, the more I believe he understands, but really, being sick is the only life he knows because he was so young when he was diagnosed,” she said. “I think he’s gone through every size of car seat there is for children, too, and he’s spent a lot of time in them over the years because of all of the trips we have had to make.”
The young boy’s story is well known in the Wheeling area, and that is because the community collectively decided to support him and his mother and father, Kevin, after local residents learned of his Stage Four condition. His love for super heroes is widely known, and Hines’ all-time favorite, to date anyway, is Iron Man because, well, “He’s the coolest,” this celebrity child said.
“But you know what? He doesn’t know how many people know him and his story. It’s just normal for him because it’s the only life he knows,” Debbie said. “He thinks it’s normal.
“But now that he’s been doing so much better, he’s been able to go to school, and he loves school, and I think it’s because he just gets to be a kid there,” she continued. “The teacher may know about him, but the other kids in his class don’t know him from the next child because of his age. That will change, I’m sure, over the years, but now he gets mad when school is canceled or he can’t go because of one of his appointments.”
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Hines will be in attendance this Sunday at noon for the fourth annual “Hope for Hines” fundraiser at Quaker Steak & Lube, but this year there is a slight change because the Rotriga family has opted to help two other families from the Upper Ohio Valley who also are battling childhood cancer. That is why this year’s event is billed “Hines & Friends.”
“It’s wonderful that Hines is doing so well right now, but we all realize he has to keep fighting this fight,” said Christine Thomas, marketing manager for The Lube at The Highlands. “But that’s also why the Rotriga family has decided to include the other families this year. Blaycen Hubbard and Leo Zambori are the two children who are battling cancer at this time, and their families will benefit from this year’s event.
“We’re going to have over 25 vendors here, as well as the bounce houses, a Chinese Auction, and, of course our face painters will be back this year, too,” Thomas explained. “We will be cooking outside, and everything we raise out there will go directly to the cause of helping these children, and The Lube also will donate a percentage of what is sold inside the restaurant, too.”
Three local bands are scheduled to begin at noon, including “Easy Street,” “Crazy Horse,” and “The Adrian Niles Band.” All of the musicians have agreed to perform free of charge and are set to take the stage for at least 90 minutes each.
“The ‘Hope for Hines’ event will be an annual event here because children battling against cancers in this area is something that’s not going to change,” Thomas said. “And our community is awesome because of the amount of support they offer each year. It’s amazing to me to see how many people come to donate and have a good time and how any people are willing to donate their time. Not only the bands, but the vendors, the people with the bounce house companies, and all of the Lube employees who are outside working the event do so without getting paid at all.
“And I can’t say enough about the Rotriga family. They are amazing people,” she said. “Dave and Laura Rotriga, the owners of Miklas Meat Market and Hines’ uncle and aunt, do so much for the event every single year, and that includes donating a lot of the food that our people make outside near the patio. Their market has been the ‘Hope for Hines’ headquarters from day one, and that’s not going to change as long as that little boy is fighting.”