Blue Jackets, cancer fighters inspire each other during hospital visit
Entire team makes annual visit to Nationwide Children's Hospital as part of Hockey Fights Cancerby Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
Earlier this month, 11-year-old Reese Shirey was one of six young cancer fighters invited to Nationwide Arena to take part in a photo shoot with Blue Jackets players, all part of her designation as one of six cancer heroes this year for the organization during the annual Hockey Fights Cancer campaign.
Thursday, the Blue Jackets came to her.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, David Savard, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray all spent time in her room during a visit to Nationwide Children's Hospital, but as the players started to move down the hall as part of their annual visit, Reese realized she didn't have pictures with two of them.
That wasn't going to stand, so she climbed out of her bed, put on a Blue Jackets hat, walked out into the hallway and made sure that picture got taken.
And just like the pictures she took with Dubois, Cam Atkinson and Gustav Nyquist as part of the Flashes of Hope photo shoot at the arena, she struck a post of defiance, flexing her muscles in the face of her disease.
PHOTO GALLERY: Nationwide Children's Hospital visit
That was part of the mood of Thursday's event. While the children the entire Blue Jackets team visited across the hospital are fighting the worst of the worst, they also have an indomitable spirit about them that makes the day both sobering but ultimately inspiring.
"That's one of the things that when I went into medicine is what I was amazed at, is how resilient the kids are," said Dr. Tim Cripe, chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "Even though they might have horrible sounding diagnoses and limitations in things, their spirit is often really exemplary. They're still kids, so they like to play and have fun within the limitations that they may have."
Now in his eighth year with the hospital, Cripe greeted the 23 Blue Jackets players and Stinger when they arrived for the visit, which occurred one night before the team's annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Friday vs. St. Louis in Nationwide Arena.
From there, the players split up into six groups to fan out across the hospital. Some played games with children facing the disease, while others simply went room to room to deliver care packages and spend a few minutes with the kids to learn about their likes and interests.
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Some kids were Blue Jackets fans excited to see their on-ice heroes, while others were simply happy to have a visit from a friendly face. For 22-year-old Brittany Flora, a Blue Jackets fan who has twice beaten cancer but is back in the hospital, the visit was one that brightened her day.
It took some effort on her part, too, to head to the hospital's lobby to meet with two players, as she's currently receiving treatment on a floor that could not receive guests.
"It gets you away from reality for a moment," she said of talking with Dubois and Savard.
That's one of the pillars of the Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation, which organizes the annual visit. One of the four founding areas of focus for the foundation is making a difference for kids facing pediatric cancer battles. In particular, the foundation supports initiatives that provide distraction through play, allowing kids to feel like kids again even if it's for a short while.
"It's doing the right thing and being there for patients who need them and need support," said Katie Matney, interim director of the CBJ Foundation. "That's just part of what the foundation is and the importance of giving back and being a good community partner.
"To have every player participate in one level or another, it just showed how important it was for them to be there for those who need them at a time it was really critical."
For the players, it was also a day that helps put things in perspective.
"I think today is one of those days where you get a good reality check pretty quick," center Riley Nash said. "You could be having a good day or a bad day, but we're still where we're at and able to live our dream and play this game and make money doing it. You go and see some of these kids, some of the families and the situations they're in, it really puts things in perspective pretty quickly."
Veteran defenseman David Savard, who is a father of two children, agreed. Yet he couldn't help but be impressed by the brave faces of the children he met, just like young Reese.
"I think it's crazy how strong those kids are," Savard said. "What they go through, it's tough to see, but it's personal for us. Every time we come in here, we leave humbled, and it's great to see how they fight and keep going. It's awesome."