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Spreading the holiday cheer

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

One year ago, 10-year-old Trey Hazelette went five days without eating or drinking anything, and his family figured that something far beyond a seasonal virus was affecting him.

They were right.

A visit to their regional emergency room confirmed that Trey had appendicitis and needed to be treated immediately. He was transported via LifeFlight to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, where the family dodged a bullet because Trey’s condition could have been much worse, said his grandfather, Ron Cassady.

“He almost died from a bacterial infection,” said Cassady, a Blue Jackets season ticket holder from Utica, Ohio since the team’s inaugural season in 2000. “But during recovery, Trey got sick again and developed pancreatitis. We thought he was going to be in the hospital a lot longer than he was, but luckily he got to go home a little earlier than expected.

“While he was there, he got to know a lot of the kids and then it dawned on him that they would be spending Christmas in the hospital. You could tell that really bothered him.”

While Trey was fortunate to make a full recovery from both ailments, what he couldn’t stop thinking about was a way to help the kids he had met (and also those he hadn’t) while hanging out in the Blue Jackets Foundation’s Family Resource room in the hospital.

Trey was discharged just before Thanksgiving, and in the time before Christmas 2013, he came up with a plan.

Trey spent a lot of time in the Blue Jackets Foundation room, Cassady said. He and Trey were and are regular attendees at Nationwide Arena, and when they’re not in the building, they’re watching on television and cheering on their favorite team.

So it was quite the nice surprise when Ryan Johansen and Derek MacKenzie stopped by one day to hang out - and it was a visit that made a profound impact on Trey and his recovery.

“That helped us through some difficult times,” said Trey’s father, Anthony. “They signed his jersey, spent some time with him and the other kids…it made a tough day a little easier and I think Trey was inspired by that.”

And so here was Trey, a 10-year-old who just fought for his life in the hospital whose main concern was making sure other kids in less fortunate circumstances could enjoy the holidays and have a gift to open on Christmas Day.

“He’s just a special kid,” Cassady said. “He has a heart of gold, and we found that out first-hand.”

After he was released from the hospital, Trey began collecting toys at school and his family had no idea he was doing it until his school called, asking what they planned to do with a collection of toys.

“I had no idea what they were talking about,” Cassady said. “He had done this all on his own and didn't tell anyone. He’ll do anything to help those kids. He became friends with a lot of them. All he wanted was to make sure they could have some toys for Christmas, and he even offered to have Santa take his toys to these kids.”

Just before Christmas last year, Trey asked Cassady if they could return to Children’s Hospital and deliver toys to the kids staying there.

It began as a small amount of toys, Cassady said, but this year, Trey got a head start and gathered even more toys to bring to the hospital. Last week, a healthy 11-year-old Trey walked into the hospital with two huge boxes of toys that would put smiles on the faces of kids who need a happy moment.

“I didn’t like being in the hospital. It wasn't very much fun,” Trey said. “I collected the toys for the kids who aren’t as fortunate, so they could have a Merry Christmas, too.”

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