A group of Sac Town gamers will marathon game for 24 hours on Nov. 5 to benefit Children’s Miracle Network’s U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital

A hospital bed sits empty as the somber sounds of footsteps and the wheels of gurneys rolling down a hallway fill the air just outside the slightly-open doorway.

On the bed lies a colorful pillowcase, a cheerful blanket and a cute little stuffed animal. A child enters the room for what will likely be a lengthy stay, and though the fear and uncertainty of what’s to come is all he or she can think about, those items on the bed inspire a smile.

Pillowcases and dolls in the style of popular characters may not seem like much, but for a child who is facing weeks of chemotherapy or other such treatments for a potentially terminal illness, they can mean the world.

But these items can be expensive for a hospital to provide, which is why they rely on fundraising efforts like Extra Life.

Extra Life is a nationwide fundraising organization made up of video gamers who hold an annual 24-hour gaming marathon—on Nov. 5 this year—to raise money in support of the 170 Children’s Miracle Network hospitals in the US, nine of which are in California.

Since forming in 2008, Extra Life gamers have raised over $14 million for Children’s Miracle Network, collectively.

Jason Gist is the entertainment liaison for Extra Life Sacramento, which formed last year and raised over $50,000 in its initial run. Gist says he’s been holding gaming tournaments in Sacramento for about three years and got involved with Extra Life after being invited by a member of the group.

Gist now runs monthly gaming tournaments at Mango’s on K Street where he charges a $5 tournament entry fee, all of which goes back to Extra Life Sacramento’s fundraising efforts. The group’s goal is to raise $75,000 in 2016.

“What’s great about the Sacramento guild is that we are looking for that human interaction,” says Gist. “We want to make Sacramento feel that we’re here for them and that we’re a part of their community. We want to show the community that it’s OK to have fun for charity. We’re not asking you, ‘hey, give me all your money, okay, see you later.’ We’re saying, ‘hey, come be a part of the community’ and then the donations come in.”

Donations are raised by each Extra Life member, not only on the big marathon gaming day, but throughout the year. Individual fundraisers hold tournaments, stream games online to solicit donations from viewers or participate in other events to raise funds for the organization.

“What’s great about it is that people who sign up and register and make donations, those donations instantly go to Children’s Miracle Network and in turn, Children’s Miracle Network sends us a check,” says Michelle Thompson, the Associate Director for Children’s Miracle Network at U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital, the beneficiary of Extra Life Sacramento. “It helps support equipment and research and medical care.”

Thompson, who is responsible for securing funds for Children’s Miracle Network through various charity and fundraiser programs, adds that the best part about Extra Life is that donations are extremely easy to make and can be made by anyone at any time.

Donations can be made either through the Extra Life website, individual Extra Life guild or member pages or even in person at events like Gist’s tournaments.

“You don’t have to be in a physical location,” Thompson says. “You can pay with anyone around the world. Many people are always saying they’re standing up for whatever it is, so Extra Life is that platform for those that want to raise money for the children’s hospital and to game and do what they love.”

Some of the hospital’s patients end up contributing to the fundraising efforts, too, because they understand the importance of giving back.

“I’m participating in [Extra Life] because not only was I a cancer survivor and patient, I’m also a gamer,” says Parmina Valentine, 16, who was diagnosed with an extremely rare stage three cancer after a non-embryonic mediastinum germ cell tumor was found attached to her thymus during a 2009 hospital visit. “Being a gamer and survivor and patient, I want to give back. I want to help kids in need and help their families in any way I can and if it means gaming, I’ll game.”

Parmina’s grandmother Pauline Marie—who was granted custody of Parmina and her sister after their mother had trouble handling the diagnosis—says that raising money through organizations like Extra Life is essential because not only do families have trouble paying for the costs of medical care in these situations, those extra items like the stuffed animals and pillowcases can help ease a lot of pain.

“It’s not the amount that you donate, it’s that you do,” says Pauline, who adds that Parmina still has every stuffed animal she ever received. “I don’t care if it’s a dollar to buy a stupid [stuffed animal], because to a child that’s now walking into that room, seeing [that] sitting on the bed along with their own personal pillowcase and a comfortable blanket that they get to take home with them that has become their new best thing to hang on to, there is nothing better than that for them. Until you’ve actually had to go through it with a child, you don’t know how much the little things really make a difference.”

Parmina and Pauline agree not everything that came out of Parmina’s cancer diagnosis was negative. Aside from their involvement with Extra Life (the family’s goal is to raise $2,500 this year), Parmina says she gained a great deal of respect for the work the staff at U.C. Davis Children’s Hospital do.

Parmina says she wants to attend U.C. Davis to become a nurse in the children’s hospital.

“In a way, I think that if the kids know that their nurse had cancer and she survived then maybe [they’ll realize] they have a future,” says Parmina, who has been cancer free since 2010, but still deals with the after effects of the chemotherapy treatment. “I just really want to help them. I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t want to be a surgeon. I want to be nurse.”

Pauline supports Parmina’s goals and says she believes Parmina will do everything she says she’s going to do.

“For a child to have to go through something like that, this hospital was the best positive experience that could have come out of it,” Pauline says. “There’s so many good things that [Parmina’s] focused on now and has been since she was 9 years old with what she wants to do with her life and why she wants to do it in terms of working with other kids and helping kids. I see her making a difference.”

Parmina’s sister Makala Stephens, 10, who also participates in Extra Life fundraising as part of the family’s “Magic Dragons” team, says she’s happy she still has her big sister.

“Thinking of not having my sister here would not be a fun time,” says Makala. “Not having somebody to come home to when [Pauline]’s not available, I think it would be the worst thing in my life. So that’s why I’m so proud of Mina to stay here today with us instead of not being here from cancer.”

To learn more about Extra Life, Extra Life Sacramento, to donate or to get involved, visit www.extra-life.org.