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Heartfelt mission: Chicago teen helps children cope with loss

St. Laurence High School student Bryan Radtke lost his brother-in-law PPitcher (photo) bratumor two years ago. Radtke has been helping

St. Laurence High School student Bryan Radtke lost his brother-in-law, Pat Pitcher (in photo), to a brain tumor two years ago. Radtke has been helping first- through third-graders adapt to losses in a counseling program. | Matt Matton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 29, 2012 8:00AM



When it comes to volunteer work, Bryan Radtke did not choose the easy path.

Radtke talks to youngsters about the deaths of loved ones — particularly the passing of a youngster’s father. When he does, he is speaking from the heart.

Radtke, of Chicago’s Southwest Side, volunteers for Heart Connection, a grief counseling program at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park. Through Heart Connection, the 18-year-old learned how to cope with the loss of his brother-in-law, so he now tries to help first- through third-graders through their grief.

Radtke’s brother-in-law, Pat Pitcher, lost his battle with brain cancer when Radtke was a sophomore at St. Laurence High School in Burbank.

“He was really close to me because he and my sister lived in my parents’ basement apartment. I’d see them every day,” Radtke said. “He developed the brain tumor at the age of 18 and died at 26.”

“Pat was majoring in music at Moraine Valley Community College, and he just got me started with music. Now I’m going to go to college for music, too.”

Radtke plans to attend Moraine Valley later this year.

“I try to sing and I am a real lover of country music,” he said. “I want to try to get into a four-year college and major in music or music management.”

While the entire family was shaken by Pitcher’s death, Radtke said his sister Mara, 26, took it the hardest.

“My mom wanted to find something to help me and my sister out,” Radtke said. “We tried Heart Connection.”

Mara eventually moved to Texas, but Radtke continued in the program.

“I stayed with it and I liked it. I liked how it helped,” he said. “It helps everybody. Everyone comes in with what they have to say and it helps the group.”

Radtke, the son of Donna and Martin Radtke, told Heart Connection administrator Peg Schneider he would like to stay involved and help others. He began by talking with first- through third-grade children, many dealing with the loss of their fathers.

“I don’t want those kids to have to go through anything more than they have to and suffer more than they really need to,” he said.

At St. Laurence, Radtke — whose graduation was scheduled for this month — was involved with Kairos leadership retreats and involved with peer ministry, sports media and a club devoted to rock music.

Outside of school, he played for a Country Club Hills-based semipro football team, the Stallions.

Among his mentors is Jim Cummings, of Chicago Ridge.

“He went out of his way to help me out,” Radtke said. He also credits Bro. Tim Smyth, Mark Scott and Tom Pallardy, of St. Laurence High School, with keeping him on track.

He strives to remember his brother-in-law on a daily basis, and that motivates him.

“When Pat passed, he was going to Harold Washington College and he only needed one more credit to get his associate’s degree. He didn’t get it, but my sister was able to go up for him at the graduation ceremony and receive his degree for him,” Radtke said. “I just want to do really good for my family. My mom and my whole family have gone through a lot even before this. My parents had a rough start in their life and earned everything they have. When I think of trying to go somewhere, I think of them and want to make them proud.”



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