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The Best Gift is a Smile

Sunday, 12.20.2009 / 11:26 AM / Features
By John Bishop  - BostonBruins.com
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The Best Gift is a Smile
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Boston, MA – It’s been happening for years and it’s a familiar scene. Boston Bruins players, dressed in festive gear, dropping off toys to children in hospitals. B’s Hall of Famer Ray Bourque started the player holiday toy shopping and delivery tradition when he was captain of the team, while defenseman Hal Gill and forward P.J. Axelsson continued it.

This year Patrice Bergeron has taken responsibility for the program and an estimated total of $18,000, donated by the Bruins players and coaches, which was matched by the organization, and the total was used by the team to shop for toys.

And thanks to some help from Volvo on Tuesday, December 14th, they delivered the items to hospitals throughout the city, hoping to give the children confined to those facilities a little brighter holiday season.

This December, however, at least one member of the Boston Bruins family saw, personally, just how important the B’s visits and gifts are to the patients.

Bruins head athletic trainer Don DelNegro was there when his daughter Renee’s best friend Katie saw the Black & Gold walk into her hospital ward and her face was just one of 15 examples of how the B’s involvement enriches the lives of children like those found in Spaulding Rehab Hospital’s Pediatric Unit – the home of the Boston Bruins Foundation's "Bruins Spaulding Pediatric Gym" dedicated last year.

Katie was hit by a car last month, and is making terrific progress and should be home soon. But her prognosis was not always so bright.

“Yeah, three weeks ago today, she was crossing the road to go to her best friend’s house, and a truck pulled out and basically hit her and ran over her,” said Katie’s dad, John Tucker. “It caused quite a bit of damage.

“They had to do an emergency surgery to stop the bleeding in the brain, which saved her life. It was down in Portsmouth where it happened -- Portsmouth Regional Hospital -- They did a great job… They decided they couldn’t wait to get her back here [to Children’s Hospital] to do the surgery so a neurosurgeon from Portsmouth [did] emergency surgery there, which saved her life.

“Surgery went great and they transported her up here. We went to Children’s Hospital on Wednesday morning and did a full array of CAT scans and MRI’s, and now we’re here, three weeks later. We got out of Children’s on her birthday, December 10th, which was last Thursday, and we got the best news we could ever have, she’s coming home before Christmas.”

But believe it or not, according to her dad, initially, Katie wasn’t so thrilled about the news.

“Oh my gosh, when she heard that, she asked, ‘I’m not going to go home before Tuesday, am I?’ I said, ‘No, you’ll be here when the Bruins are here.’ It was a huge deal for her. She called all her friends back home,” he said. “She talked about it all week and…it’s been something she’s looked forward to all day, through three sessions of therapy this morning.

“I think what got her through it was just knowing that after lunch the Bruins are going to be here. It’s hard to put in words, but not just for Katie, but all the kids. I mean, the breakfast this morning -- we try to have group breakfasts here -- they were all so excited.

“Days go into nights go into days here, and they have therapy and therapy and therapy, but to know…that they can look out that window and see the Garden and know that the players that are playing there are coming here, is fabulous.”

It’s not a run of the mill deal for the hockey-hardened professional athletes, either.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to walk into a place and make kids smile,” said Andrew Ference, who, like Milan Lucic and Derek Morris visited Katie and her friends at Spaulding. ”And being a parent you now you understand how tough that must be, to have your kid in the hospital and especially over the holidays -- to see.

“[And to hear the parents say] I haven’t seen my kid smile in two weeks, you guys don’t understand how much you brighten up their day. To hear those kinds of comments, obviously it makes you feel tremendous. Where all we really do is show up and be nice and smile and talk with the kids, but it’s because of our position in the community that we have the opportunity to do that.”

It’s an opportunity that Ference and the Bruins relish.

“There’s a responsibility to do the right thing and to be a good person and to help out in your community,” said Ference. “If you have the opportunity and you’re in a position to get kids in a really bad situation excited about a visit from their local athletes, of course, it’s a no-brainer.”

“When you play sports, whether you like it or not…to a certain extent you’re going to be a role model,” explained Ference. “To a certain extent, you’re going to have a responsibility on your shoulders to represent something.”

Ference admitted that the children let him feel like a kid for a little while, too.

“It’s great because you get to spend time and you get to hang out and…be yourself, and have some of your personality be able to come through,” said Ference. “And the kids get to have a bond, even if it is only for a couple hours.”

The staff at the hospital look forward to Toy Delivery Day, too.

“The Bruins holiday visit to the Spaulding Rehab Pediatric Unit is one of the highlights of the year, our staff look forward to it for months,” said Michelle Doran, RN Spaulding Pediatric Program Director. “The relationship between the Bruins is very special to Spaulding, and the generosity and caring they show our patients and staff is truly uplifting.”

The Bruins have a bond with New England and seem to embody many things to many people. Hope, health, happiness are just a few of those things. But for the Tucker family, all the Bruins needed to be was a distraction – a distraction that would help Katie through a few more arduous days.

DelNegro, for one, saw how Katie smiled when the Bruins arrived and he had a new understanding of just how important the visits actually are to the children.

“What you don’t realize is, what the players don’t realize, is what a big impact they have on people and their celebrity status of who they are,” said Don. “And for those kids who just couldn’t have the interaction with a lot of other people because of their situation, it’s ‘ginormous,’ the effects it has on the kids and their desire to get healthy, get back out there and get back to what they were doing, being kids.

“You know, when I first got there Katie was kind of doing her artwork and was very shy, quiet,” continued the trainer. “And then, by the time 15 minutes later, when the players were interacting [with Katie and the other children] the more you could tell she was brightening up a little bit and was a little more exuberant and had a little more energy to her.”

Mr. Tucker explained the B’s impact when he said, “This morning Katie didn’t want to get out of bed, and I said, ‘Get that therapy done, you can see the Bruins. If you don’t get the therapy done, I can’t let you do it.’ She got it done and she did a great job. It means so much to them.”

But maybe Katie explained it best. When, during the Bruins visit, she was asked how she felt, she said, smiling wide, “I feel great.”

And that’s the best gift anyone could ask for.

About Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital
A member of Partners HealthCare, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital is the flag ship facility of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network, which includes the Spaulding main campus, a 196-bed facility, located in Boston, MA, Spaulding Hospital Cambridge, Shaughnessy-Kaplan Rehabilitation Hospital three skilled nursing facilities: North End Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, Boston Center for Rehabilitation and Sub-Acute Care, and the Clark House, as well as sixteen outpatient sites throughout the Greater Boston area. Spaulding is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School as well as the official rehabilitation hospital of the New England Patriots. Spaulding is the only rehabilitation hospital in New England continually ranked since 1995 by U.S. News and World Report in its Best Hospitals survey. For more information, please visit www.spauldingrehab.org.

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