Boone Jenner smiled as he glanced under the table at his Uno cards. Uno isn't really Jenner's game -- he's a “Crazy 8s” guy -- but he's in his element interacting with the patients at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. And he was holding his own, too, until Mark Letestu hit him with a draw four.
And as they all quickly found – Uno is serious business around these parts.
"We take this seriously," says a hospital staff member. "No mercy on visitors."
The table erupts with laughter. Fedor Tyutin looked on and smiled before confidently issuing an open challenge to a one-on-one game of Madden 15. His challenge was immediately accepted by Sayrion, another patient who was thrilled to see some Blue Jackets visitors on Thursday afternoon.
"I haven't played in a while," Tyutin says, clearly intimidated by Sayrion's Tazmanian Devil shirt.
Sayrion quickly went up 7-0 over Tyutin and Blue Jackets broadcaster Dave Maetzold asked if Tyutin knew what he was doing.
"I don't think so," quipped Sayrion, igniting a bit of friendly trash-talk.
Jenner leaned back from his chair at the Uno table and offered some advice: “Run game, Tyuts.”
A few minutes later, a hospital staffer walked in and mentioned that they have a Russian-speaking patient. The entire Uno table shouts "Russian!" in unison while pointing at Tyutin and a beaming Sergei Bobrovsky.
They finished up the Uno game and get ready to visit some more rooms. They got one more round of pictures and said goodbye to their new friends. Letestu, reeling from his Uno loss, had a request for the champion, Brock.
"Next time, let us win."
The group then visited with Griffin, a patient decked-out in a “We Are The 5th Line” t-shirt. The Blue Jackets have a special connection with Griffin, a local hockey player who has battled and beaten cancer twice before. He was one of the Blue Jackets Foundation’s pediatric cancer heroes in the Black Tie Blue Jackets Style Show this past February.
"He was actually out on the ice with us last year, too…unfortunately, he's back in here,” Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray said. “He's a hockey player himself. It's tough to see and we're all rooting for him and hoping he gets better real soon. [We] can connect to a guy like that."
These kids are fighting, and it helps knowing that they have support from the Blue Jackets.
"It affects the kids every day to know that someone outside of these walls knows about them and thinks about them," said Tammi Young-Saleme, PhD, the Director of Psychosocial Services and Program Development in the Division of Hematology/Oncology/BMT at Nationwide Children's Hospital. "I think it brings a much-needed lift for their lives."
That's the goal, according to Murray.
"We're just coming in and talking to the kids and playing some card games and Xbox with them, trying to brighten their days," said Murray.
When Young-Saleme first arrived at Nationwide Children's, the player visits were only a small part of the Blue Jackets partnership, but it's grown tremendously over the years.
"Having the players come to see all the different patients in the hospital is amazing," said Young-Saleme. "I work on the cancer floor, and having them as a huge partner for us has been amazing."
One memory in particular stands out to Young-Saleme.
"Last year, I had the wonderful opportunity of receiving the gifts that the players donated to our patients and families. They brought American Girl dolls," she says with a laugh. "To think about them shopping for those at the American Girl store, as hockey players, is an amazing part of my day."
Bobrovsky, Tyutin and Marko Dano visited with the Russian patient, and it was a rare opportunity to share a laugh and a few smiles with someone who speaks their language aside from family and friends.
"That means so much to them," a hospital staffer told the trio, referring to the patient and his family. "Just having someone there for him, who speaks the same language…it means so much."
"No one deserves to be in here. No one deserves to have what they have," said Murray. "It really puts life into perspective when we walk out of these doors. But when we walk in, we just want to put a smile on someone's face."