When Conner Hagins was 9 years old, his father had a double bypass surgery.
While recovering, his father was given a teddy bear to hold against his chest while coughing or sneezing in order to help protect his chest wounds. But it was only cardiac surgery patients who were given teddy bears, Hagins found.
“From that moment it was almost a light bulb idea,” Hagins said.
That’s when the young Hagins founded Cuddles for Kids. It’s been 10 years since he started the organization, which has given out more than 100,000 toys and stuffed animals to children in hospitals. Now a college student, Hagins continues to spread his message of love.
This month, Cuddles for Kids delivered nearly 700 toys to UPMC Children’s Hospital. The donations left the shelves inside Austin’s Playroom, located on the sixth floor, fully stocked.
“This is a place children come to be children,” said Ken Rudek, manager of child life and volunteer services. “They can draw, they play video games, they can do Legos. They forget for a minute that they’re in a hospital setting. To them, this is just a wonderful, giant playroom.”
Sometimes Hagins will stop to watch the children play after Cuddles for Kids drops off donations.
“It’s definitely a special moment for myself,” Hagins said. “Just to see them smile because I know they’re going through a lot. And it almost hurts you, but just to be able to help them get through and be right by their side with it and give them something as small as a stuffed animal is special.”
Hagins is currently studying business at LaRoche College. He’ll be a sophomore in the fall and his mother, Robin Hagins, said she couldn’t be more proud of him.
“He’s a typical boy, just with a heart of gold,” she said.