Brown University basketball team drafts young boy with chronic illness

Christian Berardi, a 7-year-old boy fighting a neuromuscular condition, is the newest Brown University Bear to hit the basketball court. (WJAR)

A young boy fighting a neuromuscular condition is the newest Brown University Bear to hit the basketball court.

Christian Berardi, 7, has an invisible disability: eosinophilic esophagitis and malignant hyperthermia. The neuromuscular condition causes him to overheat, sometimes to 106 degrees, among other dangerous side effects.

“He has some health conditions he’s been dealing with since he was born,” Christian’s mother, Mary Hillman, said.

But the illness was the least of Christian’s worries after the North Providence boy signed his ‘letter of intent’ with the team Tuesday night.

“It makes all the doctor’s visits and all the IVs and all the needles a little less scary when he knows he has these guys cheering him on,” Hillman said.

Team IMPACT, a Boston-based non-profit organization, made the night possible. It matches college teams with kids battling chronic illnesses. Christian goes to practices, games and even went trick-or-treating with players.

“I’ve been doing a lot,” Christian said.

The team is thrilled Brown took a shot on Christian. He may not have the height, but he has the heart.

“Having Christian with us, it’s an amazing feeling,” player Tamenang Choh said. “When he comes in, it’s all laughs, it’s joy. He wants to stretch with us, he wants to shoot with us, so it’s just amazing to have him with us.”

Hillman said Christian always has a smile on his face when he is with the Bears.

“He’s an only child, so it almost feels like they’re giving him some big brothers,” she said.

Christian was given his own #21 jersey at “draft night.” His mother said he had to miss his own basketball league’s practice, but it was well worth it.

Since 2011, Team IMPACT has matched nearly 1,600 children with more than 500 colleges and universities in 49 states, reaching over 50,000 participating student-athletes. The child joins the athletic team and the student-athletes join the child’s support team. Throughout the journey, the child gains strength, camaraderie and support while the student-athletes experience lessons of courage, resiliency and perspective they can’t learn in a classroom.

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