Aiming to comfort sick children, Boston’s pros make the rounds
Standing outside a patient’s room on the 10th floor of Children’s Hospital Boston, Kendrick Perkins, clad in a yellow gown to prevent spread of germs, struggles with a pair of rubber gloves. Perkins’s hands are as big as dinner plates.
Inside the infection precaution room, 9-year-old Roger Sarette lies in bed and plays with a
Finally ready, Perkins ducks under the transom and steps toward Roger’s bedside.
“Hey, Roger, it’s a pleasure to meet you,’’ the 6-foot-10-inch Perkins says as he hunches over the edge of Roger’s bed. “I see you got a video game going there in your hand. What are you playing?’’
“Lego Star Wars,’’ Roger peeps.
“Yeah? What else do you like?’’ Perkins asks in his soft Texas drawl.
Turns out Roger also likes Batman and Harry Potter.
The big man and the little boy talk more while Roger’s mom comes over to the other side of the bed for a photo. Roger’s dad is a Celtics fan and loves Perkins. Dad is going to like this.
“This is about the parents and the children,’’ says Dr. Vincent Chiang, chief of Children’s Inpatient Services. “There’s a feeling of helplessness and vulnerability for our parents here. When people like Kendrick come to visit, just for that moment, the parent gets to be a fan. Sometimes it’s for the parents as much as the patients. A visit like this gives their lives normalcy again. It’s a way to make the helpless, vulnerable feeling go away for a little bit of time. Even for five minutes. It’s something we as physicians can never give them — that moment of being normal again.’’
“It’s emotional,’’ the 26-year-old Perkins says after the visit. “Every child is different. Once you go into a room, you adapt. I stay away from asking how they are doing because they might not be doing that good. I just try to brighten their day, make it a good day to remember.’’
Ballplayers always have been in the business of bringing cheer to sick kids. There are numerous anecdotes about Babe Ruth dedicating home runs to Johnnys wearing johnnies. The formal relationship between Boston’s pro teams and Children’s Hospital goes back to the 1940s when Dr. Sidney Farber established the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation, in conjunction with Children’s Hospital. The Boston Braves joined forces with the Jimmy Fund in 1948, and the Red Sox picked up the torch after the Braves left town in 1953. The Jimmy Fund has been the official charity of the Red Sox for more than a half century.
Ted Williams was the godfather of Boston ballplayers going to bat for sick children. One day in the early 1950s, Red Sox traveling secretary Tom Dowd showed Williams a letter from a young boy at Children’s who was dying of leukemia. The boy wanted an autographed ball from Teddy Ballgame. When Ted read the letter, he grabbed a couple of teammates and announced that they were all going to Children’s. Immediately. Dowd took the ballplayers down Brookline Avenue and watched Ted present a baseball to the boy.
“In those moments, the kid was whole again,’’ Dowd remembered. “He was one of them, there with his heroes, in a beautiful world.’’
Years pass, new hospitals are built, doctors find ways to cure many childhood diseases, but still the fundamental rules apply. Kids and their parents worship ballplayers.
Pro athletes own unique healing powers.
Today in Boston we are blessed with the sons of Ted Williams — athletes who raise money for children’s charities and visit sick kids who need a lift.
The Bruins show up in Halloween costumes (Tyler Seguin as Fred Flintstone and Brad Marchand as Mr. Potato Head), play with kids, and hand out swag bags. Patrice Bergeron hosts patients and their families in a luxury box for a Garden game. Josh Beckett rallies his teammates and friends for the annual Beckett Bowl for Children’s. Jason Varitek establishes Tek 33 — a program to get patients and their families to Fenway. Tim Wakefield shoots a public service announcement with a Children’s patient. Kevin Youkilis makes the rounds in the corridors of Children’s. The Revolution donate a greenhouse to one of the hospital’s patient family houses. Taylor Twellman stumps for Children’s across New England. Joe Andruzzi goes to the hospital and shows off his Super Bowl rings. Vince Wilfork visits the kids and donates to the Children’s Diabetes program. The Celtics’ Shamrock Foundation makes Children’s a community partner.
Less than 48 hours after beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, Patriots Zoltan Mesko, Ron Brace, Brian Hoyer, Julian Edelman, and Matthew Slater hustled into Children’s, tossed Nerf footballs and played with Barbie dolls to get a few laughs.
“It’s a real humbling experience,’’ says Edelman. “It reminds us just how fortunate we are to play football. We just go in there and talk football with the kids. A lot of them told me that Tom Brady should cut his hair.’’
“They have those machines [cardiovascular monitors] in some of the rooms and sometimes you see the heart rates go up when you come into the room,’’ says the rookie punter. “It goes from like 80 to 100.’’
Mesko went to the University of Michigan, where players visited sick children as part of their community service. Only 24, he knows the impact of showing up at Children’s wearing your game jersey.
“I just try to be my goofy self,’’ he says. “If it means they are laughing at me, that’s great. We’ll start throwing the ball around the room. We were just trying not to hit the equipment.’’
Good move. IV poles sometimes get in the way.
There was a lot of buzz on the 10th floor the day Perkins came to visit. His visit started in the recreation room, where Perkins maneuvered around wheelchairs, rollaway beds, and nervous patients and parents. The Celtics center spent time with children, signed several casts, took photos, and made a holiday wreath at the crafts table. A little boy named Angel presented Perkins with a homemade trophy.
“It’s emotional,’’ Perkins says. “Especially now that I have a 3-year-old son. We didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid. Anytime I can visit, I definitely say yes.’’
After saying goodbye to folks in the rec room, Perkins made his way over to the transplant wing, where he gracefully slipped into a new hospital gown and gloves each time he went into a patient’s room. He watched “Tom & Jerry’’ with one little girl, and played with toy trucks with a little boy. He cajoled a couple of smiles out of Roger, the boy waiting for the liver transplant.
“Roger’s still kind of young and not the rabid sports fan his parents are,’’ says Dawn Sarette, Roger’s mom. “Right now a lot of the visits tend to boost mom and dad more than Roger. But it definitely helps. Now when we’re home watching a game, we’ll tell Roger, ‘You met him.’ It brings the games home to him.
“We’ve met Patriots here. Roger and his dad got to go to Fenway, and Alex Cora and Kevin Youkilis signed some things for them. They got to stand on the field with Wally. It was quite a day.
“Some of the younger players seem a little bit nervous or apprehensive. It can be overwhelming if you haven’t been in hospitals and seen kids not looking well. I was quite surprised with Kendrick. He seemed so comfortable and was an absolute gentleman. It was really a pleasure meeting him. Roger knows that these players are special, and it makes him feel special to have them come see him.’’
They are Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, Patriots, and Revolution, and they are special. But they are also dads, sons, brothers, uncles, and nephews. In the corridors of a children’s hospital they are angels, sprinkling cheer, making today a good day to remember.
(To purchase tickets or for more information on the annual dinner please call 617-355-4332. To purchase online or make a donation visit childrenshospital.org/champions.)
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.