GROSSE POINTE WOODS, Mich. – Jake Pennar was diagnosed with brain cancer, but the 9-year-old hated the word “cancer.” He would only call what was happening his tumor.
The 9-year-old loved baseball. But his father, Krzysztof Pennar, knew something was wrong when he stopped hitting every pitch coming his way. That was the fall of 2019.
“I was reading on the couch with him... and he said he saw double,” said his mother Amy Pennar.
After a CT scan, the family learned he had a brain tumor.
Despite the tumor and the constant rounds of chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries and more, Jake was never thinking about himself.
A few months before he died, he took part in the Great Cycle Challenge raising money for pediatric cancer research. He raised nearly $6,000 -- more than any kid in his category in the entire country.
“He would get out there and ride and fall down and then say ‘I think I can do it,’” said his mother Amy Pennar.
Watch: Legacy of Grosse Pointe Woods boy, 9, lives on
Even Jake’s oncologist, Dr. Kate Regling, said his attitude and personality was uplifting to other patients in the hospital.
“People could look at him and all hurdles he had to concur... he did it all with a smile on his face,” Regling said.
Whenever Jake was at Children’s Hospital, he loved building Lego sets. His parents said it was part of his journey.
“It was so personal and meaningful for Jake and he used them as a way to cope,” Amy Pennar said.
After Jake died, his mom, dad and sister Stacey decided to start a toy drive honoring him and helping other kids at Children’s Hospital.
“I thought maybe we’d hit 400... it became this kind of labor of love where we’d get a mountain of Amazon boxes,” said his father Krzysztof Pennar.
The labor of love grew large enough to where the family ran out of room in their home and had to set up inside their church. In the middle of winter, they moved the toys from the church to the hospital.
They collected 2,021 toys -- Jake died in 2021 and his baseball number was 21.
“It blew me away, and just this morning, I realized it was 21 days between his birthday and the day that he passed,” said Krzysztof Pennar.
“I think it was Jake’s way of saying ‘It’s OK, we did something great for me and we did something great for other children who might be in a similar situation,’” Regling said.
Amy Pennar said, “The success of this toy drive was a reflection of the love that people felt toward him for him just being who he was.”