New England Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovitch visited Somerville campus Wednesday to help stage a special event for an 8-year-old boy whose life has been turned upside down by a brain tumor.
Riley Roman, from South Hadley, was recently diognosed with a rare primitive neuroectodermal tumor, known as a PNET, which can spread quickly. The boy has undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy at Children's Hospital Boston, and due to the severity of his treatment he's living at the Ronald McDonald House.
Ninkovitch became friends with Riley during a visit to the hospital, and the two have remained in touch. Ninkovitch attended Riley's eighth birthday party, according Samantha and Amy McCarthy, Riley's aunts, and the football player calls, texts and sometimes plays video games with the boy.
Riley was a big sports fan before his diagnosis, his aunts said, and on Wednesday, Ninkovitch joined the Tufts University football team for a special event:
The team staged a simulated draft day, complete with an NFL-style combine, culminating in the team drafting Riley onto the squad. Riley signed a letter of intent to join the team and received a helmet, jersey and other gifts.
The event was partly organized by Team Impact, out of Quincy, which aims to improve the lives of children who are facing adverse circumstances. Board members of Team Impact include four Tufts alumni, including Dan Kraft, son of the Patriots' owner Robert Kraft.