The Dallas Stars made their annual holiday visit to Children's Medical Center in Dallas yesterday afternoon, spending a few hours hanging out with patients and their families in the hospital playrooms as well as heading to the floors to visit kids who weren't able to come down and see them.
The team put together a short but sweet video of the experience, though they didn't capture Tyler Seguin's well played answer to a kid hosting the in-house radio shot.
It's about the time of year that all the NHL teams (and indeed, NFL, college bowl and others) start making their visits to hospitals and other charity events for the holidays. Oftentimes, I think people just nod at the cute video and move on, but I wanted to take time to call out the good they really do this year, especially as it happened right around Thanksgiving.
If you've interacted with me on social media, you've probably realized I spend a large chunk of my free time volunteering with seriously ill kids and their families whether that's through the Make-a-Wish Foundation or with my local children's hospital.
With that experience, I've been on the back end of this type of hospital visit multiple times, as well as worked closely with kids who were beneficiaries of organizations like Seguin's Stars or Fidd's Kids, or at least my area's version of such foundations.
In one frame of reference, it's an extremely small thing to invite a family to a game, to spend some time playing Foosball with them in a hospital playroom. A lot of people look at it and think, "Well that's a sweet thing to do, but it really doesn't make a difference in the big picture - many of those kids are still dealing with terrible things."
And that's true. But I'm here to tell you it does make a difference, even though that may be on a small scale. There's a lot of monotony to hospital life, a ton of "Wait as an inpatient for your medication to clear/temperature to go down/pain crises to diminish." That time can pass really slowly without distractions, even moreso if a child really doesn't feel well. Playrooms or bedside play are certainly a good option to help, but even those can get old when you're stuck in a hospital for weeks on end.
Things like a team hospital visit are the ultimate distraction, whether it's for a teenager who knows exactly who these guys are and is shocked that these athletes actually care enough to spend time with him or her or a little boy or girl who has no clue what this tall guy does but knows they have a new best friend to play with their trains or dolls.
It's also meaningful for the parents, siblings and other friends and relatives who may have been spending a ton of time at the hospital as well. Particularly when it's a child in the hospital, the entire family spends endless hours there, and siblings and parents need meaningful distractions just as much as the patients.
For some of the players, events like this are more personal. Vernon Fiddler lost a sister to leukemia when they were children, and he's been a long-time supporter of fundraising for children's cancer research. Last year, he donated tickets to Make-a-Wish. This year, he's donating them to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Seguin has a close friend who was paralyzed in an automobile accident, which inspired him to start the Seguin's Stars campaign that provides suite tickets to the Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Association.
Again, tickets and meet-and-greets may not sound like much, but little things like that mean everything to someone going through a hard time. It's a distraction, perhaps an introduction to a new sport that you can either play or use to pass the time as a fan. No, you can't fix what's wrong, be that cancer or cystic fibrosis, spina bifida or cerebral palsy. But just because you can't fix the big problem doesn't mean you can't do something.
That's where the hospital visits come in. Yes, it's only a few hours where John Klingberg plays Madden on an xBox or Jason Spezza sits down to play Life with a patient. But those hours can mean everything when you're stuck in the hospital, especially at the holidays.
A quick anecdote from my personal experience - last year I was on my volunteer shift as the hospital after one of the local teams paid a visit bearing Christmas gifts. There was a patient on the floor who hadn't felt well enough to get out of bed in several days, but she got up to come down to the playroom after the visit to show off the things she'd gotten. She couldn't believe the players had cared to come around in the first place, let alone bring some pretty cool things. It made her feel special rather than sick for the rest of the evening.
It wasn't much in the grand scheme of things, but for her, it was something to hold on to, a small gesture that meant everything. And that's what I think of when these visits come around. It may have been all the team really could do, but it was more than enough.