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By Kristina Pritchett

One day nine years ago changed the lives of a Dana Point family.

Taylor Carol was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and neither he nor his family knew how long he would live. The doctors told them two weeks.

Before the diagnosis, Taylor was practicing for a big musical performance. The Carols are a big sports family, and Taylor played a lot of sports, but when Taylor’s vocal talent emerged, he began taking vocal lessons and joining musicals.

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During a trip to a children’s hospital, Maker Studios, ParkerGames and Mousie visited and played games with patients. Photo: Courtesy of GameChanger

But at 11 years old, Taylor began getting night sweats and fatigue; the family took him to doctors, who advised he get further tests. After taking Taylor to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, tests revealed he had leukemia.

In May 2006, the Carol family moved to Seattle so Taylor could be admitted into the Children’s Hospital of Seattle.

“We had been told he had a rare form of leukemia, and he would need a bone marrow transplant to live,” Taylor’s dad, Jim Carol, said. “It’s probably the most horrible thing any human can go through.”

But Jim said he’s glad the family moved there and was thankful to be presented with the option at all.

“When a parent, or anyone, takes that option, that means you’re taking an option that can kill you, but you don’t have many options,” Jim said.

A match was found from a man living in Germany, and he donated the bone marrow that saved Taylor’s life.

Taylor battled cancer for five years, and during that time, he was often stuck in his room or the hospital room by himself.  That’s when Taylor turned to video games to pass the time.

That experienced helped shape the Carol family, and prompted their desire to help other children going through illnesses.

Jim had retired from a CEO position with a tech company and wanted to use his skills and passion to begin something that would help others.

GameChanger was founded in 2007; it was originally named donategames.org, by Jim and Taylor after they watched how video games and the kindness from strangers helped during Taylor’s treatment. They decided to dedicate their time to giving back.

GameChanger focuses on helping children and families suffering from cancer and other rare diseases. The organization collects and delivers video games, toys and consoles to children’s hospitals across the country. They host gaming events to connect patients and the gaming community, offer services to patients and staff in the hospitals and award financial aid and college scholarships.

“It all started inside his hospital room in Seattle,” Jim said.

The Carols realized they had games and consoles sitting at home in California, collecting dust while they were in Seattle. They knew they wanted to do something with them.

“We just thought, ‘wow, we should just give it away,’” Jim said.

Jim said the family received dozens of boxes when the organization was first created, and it just kept growing. They stacked the boxes in their home garage.

In the company’s office, a letter was mailed in that day from a patient at the one of hospitals Jim visited earlier this year. A hand drawn picture accompanied the note by the patient’s parents. As he read the letter, tears rolled down his face. He wiped them away and smiled.

“It’s about the kids,” Jim said. “It’s not about us.”

Today, the boxes are in a warehouse in San Juan Capistrano, and there are systems, controllers and games for Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo, as well as books, tablets for the younger children, toys and more.

Jim said over the past nine months, the charity has visited more than 8,000 kids in children’s hospitals across the country to meet, install the games and technology, and see what they can do to help make the kids feel better.

“We want to take care of these kids and their families,” he said. “Our rule is to impact, inspire and deliver services to children with cancer and life-threatening illnesses through gaming, tech and innovation.”

In the past, video games have been shown in a negative light, but Jim said this is the positive side to video games.

“We’ve gone to hospitals and have just seen the way kids light up,” he said. “We’ve seen kids that haven’t been responding to anything suddenly get up and move around.”

Today, the company has donated more than 17,000 video games to hospitals, children centers, partner charities and families since 2007. They’ve donated more than $200,000 toward finding a cancer cure and helped more than 100 families with support.

Taylor is healthy and attending Harvard University, where he’s studying music and English.

“We’ve learned to take every opportunity we can, and we’re very grateful for that,” Jim said.

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Jim Carol walks around GameChanger’s warehouse the week before the event to ensure everything is ready to go. Inside the warehouse are game consoles, games and more, all of which is marked for donation to kids with pediatric cancer. Photo: Kristina Pritchett

The Event

The Games and Music Festival is the first of its kind in Dana Point, Carol said. The day-long event will feature live music, local food and the latest games.

The event will run from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2 at Sea Terrace Park.

The games portion of the festival will include chances to meet YouTube/gaming stars, live gaming and performances, virtual reality demos, more than 35 companies will showcase new games, interactive booths and more.

Tickets range from $44.95 to $200 depending on the ticket, and can be purchased at www.thegamesandmusicfestival.org.

All proceeds from the tickets will benefit the charity.

Free parking and shuttles will be provided to the event from Salt Creek Beach Park, Strand Vista Park and Dana Hills High School.

GameChanger
During a trip to one of the children’s hospitals, GameChanger set up a patient with a portable gaming system. Photo: Courtesy of GameChanger

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