Young brothers team up to bring cheer – and hope – to hospitalized kids

Johnny and Joey Hamann know what it's like for kids to be in the hospital at Christmas. Their family lived it. So last year, Johnny started a foundation to collect gifts for patients at Mayo Clinic Children's Center. In December, the brothers distributed presents — and gave the gift of hope — five years after Joey's bone marrow transplant.

The Mayo Clinic Children's Center atrium looked like a toy store on Dec. 22, 2022. There were dolls and remote-control cars, games and wireless headphones. There was even a five-foot-tall teddy bear.

The bounty came not from Santa Claus but from Hamann's Helping Hands, a foundation started by 19-year-old Johnny Hamann to collect toys for children hospitalized at Christmas.

Before opening the atrium up for "shopping," Johnny and his older brother, Joey, sat down to talk with patients, families and staff. When Lisa P. Anderson, a child life licensed school teacher, asked why the brothers chose to direct the foundation's giving to Mayo Clinic Children's Center, no one in the room was prepared for the answer.

"They told us that Joey spent a teenage birthday at Mayo receiving treatment and received a bone marrow transplant from Johnny," Anderson says.

"Here sat these two vibrant, healthy young men like a miracle before our eyes," Anderson says. "When Joey said, 'And today is the anniversary of my second chemotherapy treatment, as well as my 23rd birthday, ' the room just erupted in cheers and tears."

Life interrupted

Joey was in 11th grade when he was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare type of cancer that occurs in bones or in the soft tissue around the bones. Doctors in the family's hometown of Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, referred Joey to Mayo Clinic for treatment.

"All of us were scared," Johnny says.

Joey was diagnosed in November, which meant the family — Joey, Johnny, their parents and two sisters — would be spending Christmas in Rochester.

"It was the first time we'd been away from home at Christmas," Johnny says. "But Mayo made it the best it could be. They made it feel so nice for us. They gave all of us kids gifts, not just Joey. I loved that."

Joey finished treatment and the family returned home. But a little over a year later, the treatment plan caused his bone marrow to fail. Joey would need a bone marrow transplant to treat it.

It was the first time we'd been away from home at Christmas. But Mayo made it the best it could be.Johnny Hamann

"Our whole family got tested to see if one of us could donate to him," Johnny says. "My little sister and I both matched. The doctors wanted me to donate because I was older. There was no doubt in my mind that I was doing it."

Johnny made his donation on March 6, 2018. As soon as he woke up from the procedure, he tried to get out of bed and out of his room.

"I wanted to watch them put my bone marrow into Joey," Johnny says. "I crushed a granola bar, drank some juice and went to the bathroom. They told me I could go see Joey after I did those three things."

He made it to his brother's bedside in time to watch the transplant, which was a success. Joey spent over 30 days in the hospital and just under 100 days in Rochester. But he made it home in time for his high school graduation.

Spreading cheer and hope

After Joey's treatment, Johnny began thinking about ways to give back to others the way others had given to his family.

"After having that Christmas experience at Mayo, I've been dreaming about starting a foundation," he says. "I've thought about it for years. This year, I decided to just do it."

He set up collection boxes in three locations, established a Venmo account for cash donations, and marketed Hamann's Helping Hands on social media.

"We raised close to $7,000 in cash and donations," Johnny says.

He reached out to Mayo Clinic's Child Life staff to set up a time to deliver the gifts and meet with families. And then he asked his brother to come along.

"I thought it would be great to get Joey to be my wingman and talk to people," Johnny says.

Joey was immediately on board.

"Starting a foundation is something I'd thought about doing, too," he says. "I was really happy Johnny decided to do it."

So were the families who benefitted from the brothers' generosity — and from their story.

"My brother is an inspiration," Johnny says. "Kids were asking him all kinds of questions. A couple of people were glued to him. I think they thought, 'If you can do it, maybe I can, too.'"

Anderson agrees.

"Joey and Johnny made a point to mingle and visit with every patient and family, and were particularly encouraging to a teenager and sibling going through a very similar experience," she says. "Later, the patient's mother said, 'That was the best gift ever. She is so motivated after talking with Joey.'"

The brothers say Hamann's Helping Hands will be back at Mayo Clinic next Christmas.

"We hope to double or triple what we did last year," Johnny says. "Eventually, we want this to be big enough that we can grow to other Mayo hospitals."

Editor's note: Keep up with Hamann's Helping Hands via Facebook or Instagram. For more information, contact Johnny at or 608-379-3330. Also, check out the Be the Match website to learn about marrow donation and sign up for the marrow donor registry.