Boy Battling Brain Cancer Honored in Holiday Light Display: 'He's an Angel and a Warrior'

An Illinois community has rallied around a boy they say has always been a light for others, bringing holiday cheer to him and his family at a time it’s needed most.

An Illinois community is rallying around a boy they say has always been a light for others, bringing holiday cheer to him and his family at a time when it’s needed most.

Two weeks after Benicio “Benny” Martinez, 12, shaved his head to raise money for St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which helps fund childhood cancer research, the Park Ridge boy found out he himself had a brain tumor.

Benny has been fighting since the March 2016 diagnosis and complications from treatments have left him on a ventilator and largely immobile.

“He is fighting every day,” his mother Michelle Martinez told “It’s very difficult; he’s been in the intensive care unit since the middle of August and been in the hospital one way or another since last Memorial Day.”

But recently, Benny’s spirits got a much-needed boost when neighbors sought to show solidarity, help raise funds for his cause and bring a local tradition closer to home.

Every holiday season for the past four years, Tom and Tina Grusecki have decked out their home for a dazzling light show.

The production mixes synchronized video and thousands of lights to music, creating a mesmerizing and memorable display on their home and front lawn.

“When Tom and I grew up in the area, there used to be beautiful light shows," Tina Grusecki said. "On Christmas Eve, we’d go and look at the Christmas lights. There’s nothing like that anymore. We decided to bring that tradition to our house for other families.”

They also decided to raise money for good causes, and in their first year up and running, the Gruseckis put out a donation box for the troops.

“That first year, we raised around $10,000 and we thought, ‘Wow, that’s great,'" Tina Grusecki said.

This year, the family’s efforts were personal.

“Benicio, he’s a friend of our son’s,” Tina Grusecki said. “They’re an incredible family. They’ve blessed our lives and they’re an inspiration for everyone in Park Ridge.”

The Gruseckis’ light display is divided into three parts, and at one stage, “Benicio Strong” is displayed across the home’s roof.

“It’s kind of a battle cry for fundraising for Benicio,” Tom Grusecki said. 

The fundraising goes to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which has continued to support Benny.

“Tom and Tina came to the hospital to visit Benny and said, ‘We always pick a charity every year, for this Christmas... [their son] came up the idea of [fundraising] in Benny’s honor. Would you mind if we do that?’” Martinez said. “We thought it was a fantastic idea.”

Benny was especially excited by the prospect of being involved in the Gruseckis’ efforts.

“Benny has always loved their light display — that’s always a highlight of our holiday — going over there to check it out,” Martinez continued. “He feels very helpless in his current situation. Everyone has to do everything for him. This is something he can do for other people.”

Benny's family has shown him videos and photos of the light display. Though immobile from the neck down, Benny can communicate through facial expressions and blinks in response to the show that means so much to him, his loved ones said.

"There's a lot of us that are learning from Benicio every day," Tom Grusecki said. "Realizing what's important. How every day is a gift. This kid is an absolute warrior — he's an angel and a warrior. He's united so many people in this... it's been really rewarding."

As of Dec. 8, St. Baldrick’s Foundation's "Light the Way" page, created by the Gruseckis, has raised more than $28,000 in Benny’s name. To donate, click here.

“It’s amazing,” Martinez said of the outpouring of support. “We are so grateful. You know, people say ‘I wish there was something more [we could do]’—they are doing the absolute most they can do, and that is to support us and motive us to keep going.”