Making “Big Dreams” Come True

Jono Nagel Stories

Living as a zebra, becoming a tomato head man and jumping into a video game – these are just some of the imaginative ideas that James Orrigo has helped kids fighting cancer bring to life on his “Big Dreams” tour.

James has been traveling to hospitals around the country with a portable recording studio. He records the voices and ideas of kids fighting cancer, and leaves them with their own personalized music video. The goal of his “Big Dreams” tour, made possible by Children’s Cancer Research Fund, is to distract kids from the scary realities of childhood cancer. For an hour or two, James helps them create a cartoon music video that is driven entirely by the child’s ideas, the sillier the better. After writing the song, the child has the opportunity to sing and record their song and then animate the creation. Once James leaves the hospital, he sends the raw recordings and animations to a team who helps create a fully animated music video for the child to proudly share with friends, family and hospital staff.

“My goal is to give these kids a chance to be silly and dream big, and then show them how their imaginations can come to life,” James said. “In the hospital environment, patients do not have much control over their situation. Our interactive process is such a hit because it puts them in charge of creating. One little boy said he wanted to write a song about getting a pie to the face from the Hulk, so that’s what we did!”

All of the equipment necessary for James’s process is held in a briefcase-sized, bright red music box. When the music box opens up, it displays lights, hidden cartoon characters and activities that foster creativity and imagination. James says that on multiple occasions, the box itself has been the icebreaker that encourages hospital patients to come out of their comfort zone and participate in a new, fun activity. The hospital is a hard place to be, and many kids, particularly older ones, cope by withdrawing. James’s goal is to get them to come out of their box and forget about where they are for a while – and he’s had success with even the most reserved of patients.

After witnessing the interactive process, one pediatric nurse in Chicago commented, “It was a total change! She (the patient) was able to come out of her shell and learn ways to cope with what was going on. A Child Life Specialist in Boston said, “It gives them a chance to be creative and escape the hospital.” Many parents say this experience is a gift for them, as well. A mother in Virginia Beach spoke of the effect this program had on her daughter who was receiving chemotherapy, saying, “It really brightened her day and made her feel special.”

James’s visits serve as a fun distraction while he’s there, but they also leave a sense of imagination and comradery behind that helps kids feel good long after James and his music box have left. Parents, nurses and doctors often get to know the child through their song – it gives them a way to connect with the child when they are going through a tough point in their treatment.

“The staff are always excited to make the hospital a better place to be, so I’ve seen them take hold of the song and hum it when they are doing a port access or blood draw,” James said. “Gavin, one of the patients I worked with, wanted to write a song about how awesome he is. He was so proud of his song that he taught all of the nurses, so now when he walks down the hall everyone knows him and he feels like a celebrity.”

Unfortunately, several of the children James has worked with have passed away since he first met them. When this happens, the silly videos James helped the children create take on a special meaning to their parents and loved ones. They become a way for the families to remember them and preserve their legacies by capturing a special, carefree moment forever.

James says he understands how meaningful these videos can be after a child passes away. When his own mother died of cancer, he found himself wishing he had more recordings of her voice. He’s glad he can not only provide this experience of kids in the moment, but also that he can preserve that child’s legacy for their families.

“One father whose daughter passed away from brain cancer told me he listens to his daughter’s song every single morning to remember her voice,” James said. “I know what it’s like to lose someone and want to remember what their voice sounded like, and wish you had more recordings of them. Hearing your child’s voice or even just a small laugh in the background means they don’t fade off into just your memories – preserving that moment for them is priceless.”

About James Orrigo
James Orrigo is a motivational entertainer who uses original music to entertain and personal stories to inspire. When he was in high school, he suffered from a severe brain injury. During his recovery, he discovered a passion for using music to help others. His life is a testament to the power of overcoming adversity, never giving up and living purposefully through service to others. To learn more about James, visit his website LadinaBattle.com

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