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"When you see the kids smile, it's worth it"

Players bond with patients at Nationwide Children's Hospital

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL /

Children's Hospital visit

Blue Jackets visit cancer-stricken patients at NCH

The Blue Jackets visit cancer-stricken patients at NCH

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When Tyler Woodward was just six weeks old, his parents took him to his first Blue Jackets game.

He practiced basic math by determining the goal differential in games. He knew players' numbers before he knew the alphabet and his bedroom is decorated in a full Blue Jackets theme.

Earlier this week, Woodward got a photo with the entire Columbus team…as he was leaving Nationwide Children's Hospital after receiving chemotherapy.

"It's not fun to go through treatment, but it helps to talk to those guys," Woodward said. "Seeing them helps me get through it a little better. I just love these guys. This team is such a special thing for me."

Woodward was just one of the children who spent time with the players during their annual visit to Nationwide Children's Hospital. It's something the players look forward to and that the team makes a priority year after year.

Nichole Ferris, Director of Constituent Giving for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Foundation, has been part of coordinating the Blue Jackets' visits for some time. Every year, she says, the players arrive ready to go. They grab wagons full of gifts to deliver to patients at the hospital and head out to put smiles on kids' faces.

"They've been coming for so many years," Ferris said. "As I think back on (Blue Jackets founder) 'Mr. Mac' and all the principles that he brought to the city when he brought the team, and how important it was for his team to be involved in the community, I think that he would be really proud to know that still today the players are involved and happy to come every year."

PHOTOS: The Blue Jackets visit Nationwide Children's Hospital

And every year builds on the others. During Monday's visit, Matt Calvert ran into a young boy named Luke, who calls Calvert his favorite player now after the two met during the team's visit two years ago. Calvert beamed as he shared the update that his young friend is doing great"  

Calvert also delivered a "Blue Jackets Courage Kit" provided by Boich Companies to the child of a woman who cared for Calvert's wife shortly after the birth of their son. Many hugs were shared.

"She was so helpful with us," Calvert said. "And we didn't know she was battling through this at the time. Her son had a few tough days and he was pretty shy, but you could tell he wanted the hat, the mini stick. It definitely hits home a little more because you'd do anything for your kid, and these parents are doing everything they possibly can to help their kids and when you see the kid smile, it's worth it."

The quality of each visit is always a point of emphasis for the team. Calvert says the players want to find something that interests each child they visit to help take their mind of what they are battling.

"Many of the players have been here several times," Ferris said. "They get down on the level of the patient; they talk to the patient; they talk to the families; the parents. They also spend a lot of time talking with our staff. It helps make everyone's day easier."

And even after the visit is over, the gift of the visit is not.

"In the moment, getting a picture with a professional athlete or getting an autograph from a professional athlete is a really cool thing," Ferris said. "Then once the team steps away and the patient and the families really think about 'wow, it's their day off, they could have been doing a million other things. Their travel schedule takes them away from their families, but they chose to be here with me at Nationwide Children's,' I think that's probably when the patients and even the staff really realize what great people the players are."

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