Duensings raise pediatric cancer awareness

Lefty's foundation to hold fundraising event in Omaha

Duensings raise pediatric cancer awareness

Brian Duensing and his wife Lisa have four healthy children, but they know that's not true for some families. On Friday, the Duensings and their foundation will host the 2017 Superhero Gala to benefit Sammy's Superheroes Foundation in its battle against childhood cancer.

The event, which will be at the Tiburon Golf Club in Omaha, Neb., will include Major League players Justin Morneau, Alex Gordon and Jake Diekman. Duensing, who pitched last season with the Cubs and is now a free agent, is a Nebaska native, as are Gordon and Diekman.

The Duensings decided to create their foundation a few years ago when they heard about a 13-month-old Gretna, Neb., boy named Knox Lewis, who died from cancer.

"That kind of tugged on our heartstrings," Duensing said.

The Duensings then met Jack Hoffman, the inspiration behind "Team Jack Foundation." Jack has battled with pediatric brain cancer, and you may remember seeing him run 69 yards for a touchdown in the University of Nebraska football spring game in 2013.

"We got to know [the Hoffmans] and then it snowballed," Duensing said. "Then we started our foundation to help pediatric cancer. We figured we'd do something we actually cared about."

For the last three years, the Duensings have hosted a major fundraiser in the Omaha area. Friday's event will benefit Sammy's Superheroes, which is devoted to raising awareness for all childhood cancers and to fund life-saving research. The group was formed in August 2012 to support the Nahorny family, whose son Sammy, now 8 years old, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

"It's one of these cancers where it's got a high chance of relapsing, and the other thing that's crazy about it is if you relapse, your chance of survival goes way down," said Jeremy Stanislav, executive director of Sammy's Superheroes Foundation.

Friday's event will feature an illusionist, plus the chance to bid on some sports memorabilia, including autographed jerseys by the Cubs' Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, as well as Duensing. Other prizes include tickets to the College World Series, Creighton women's basketball games, the Omaha Children's Museum, the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, and the 2018 Miss Nebraska pageant. There are golf packages as well. A few tickets were still available.

Duensing, who said his wife Lisa is the "brains behind the operation," said they're expecting about 300 people to attend the event.

"Brian is an amazing guy," Stanislav said. "He's been really awesome about helping us spread awareness for childhood cancer, and not just for Sammy's Superheroes."

One of the unique things Duensing does is ask individuals or organizations to send him a T-shirt, and he'll post a photo on Twitter during September. He received about 25 T-shirts this year, posted selfies of him wearing the tees, and his foundation will make a donation to each group.

"It's so cool that he does that," Stanislav said. "Not many people realize September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. For us and anybody in that category, we get excited when someone reaches out and tries to help. We love it when they do, and we love Brian a lot."

 The Duensings live in the Omaha area in the offseason, and someday, he hopes to do more in whatever Major League city he will call home next.

"He wanted to give back, and he's one of these guys who is grateful for where he's come from and knows he's lucky to be where he's at," Stanislav said. "I'm not saying it didn't take hard work for him to get to where he's at. Choosing childhood cancer, that's a big deal."

Seeing the Duensings personally involved has made a huge impact, Stanislav said.

"You like to see someone at that level not just put their name on something but give back to the community and show you they really care and it's true and honest," Stanislav said.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.