When Hodgkin’s disease interrupted his life at age 19, Ron “Hab” Haberle spent post-chemotherapy recovery sessions in his dad’s recliner, with little to distract him from thinking about how sick he was. Now a software engineer with a passion for giving back, Haberle started the nonprofit organization PeppedUp! to provide portable electronic devices to young patients. Haberle knows that hours spent in treatment and recovery are scary, painful…and boring. He hopes to help provide distraction, entertainment and comfort during the tough times.
When you were diagnosed, you were an art student and a volleyball player who barely knew what a biopsy was, much less anything about the world of pediatric cancer. The changes in your life must have been sudden—and dramatic.
Obviously, when I was battling cancer, I saw a lot of children that didn’t make it. Or just were having a rough time. For me, it was actually a very boring process. A 19-year-old kid, you got sick, you spent a lot of time on the couch, watching TV. It was really no fun.
Do people tend to focus on the challenges of the physical side of the disease and overlook the rest of the child’s needs?
When your mind is focused on being sick, it doesn’t help you. When your mind is focused on being a super hero or a warrior or Batman, you are focused on something positive, giving you something to look forward to.
What is the concept for PeppedUp!? How does it work?
We bring in games and donate devices—iPads, iPods, Kindles, Nintendos—that can be used in the hospital, or for the children showing up for outpatient services. They can read a book, read a magazine, surf YouTube or connect with their friends on Facebook while they’re doing their four or five hours in a chemo chair or getting a blood transfusion.
You use the tag line, “Cancer bores me” on T-shirts, and on your website.
Unless you go through it—you’re a parent, you’re a patient—it’s hard to grasp how many hours are spent in the hospital. Even the families can get some use out of these devices. Sitting there waiting, sleepless hours, days at a time, in a chair, sleeping on a blow-up mattress on the floor, it’s rough. It’s basically camping, and not “fun” camping.
Sounds like your challenge will be keeping the PeppedUp! coffers full.
If I do the math correctly, if we give every kid in the U.S. who is diagnosed in a year an iPad, it will cost $8 million. I don’t think $8 million is a lofty goal, but that’s not where my bar is at the moment. We have a lot of good support, community support. We’ve jumped on some initiatives with some of the local sports teams, the Phoenix Coyotes in particular. I would like to raise about $50,000 per year and we’re on course for that.
PeppedUp! accepts donations of gift cards, cash or electronic devices. How do families find you?
They can go directly to our website (peppedup.org) and access our “contact us” page. Facebook (facebook.com/PeppedUp) is actually one of our biggest traffic sites; parents reach us there because they are searching non-profits and organizations and following along when they see a post about childhood cancer.
What do you ultimately hope to accomplish?
I hope to be the armory for kids who’ve got to do battle. You’ve got to put up a tough fight, and you need the right tools. We want to help every kid who is diagnosed. Call us. We’ll get you whatever it is you need.
Multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint produces audio and video stories for RAISING ARIZONA KIDS and through her own company, Small Change Productions.