Meet Michael Houska.
Despite being a kid, Michael has to deal with the all-too-grown-up-fact that he has a bone disease that is deteriorating the femur in one of his legs.
He can’t walk right now. He certainly can’t skate.
And with bad news like this, it’s no surprise Michael doesn’t find much worth smiling about these days.
Of course, that was until Tuesday, when Jaroslav Halak
, Patrik Berglund
, B.J. Crombeen
and Louie showed up to put an end to all that. All four of them stopped by his room at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital to say hello.
“I haven’t seen him smile that way for a week, since we knew surgery was imminent,” said his mother, Vicki Houska. “This is the first time since surgery that he’s even looked up. He’s having a great time now.”
The players were making the rounds at four local children’s hospitals as part of the team’s annual Holiday Hospital Visits. In addition to talking with the kids, the players brought gifts and signed autographs for them, leaving lasting memories in a place that most children would prefer to forget.
“You definitely realize how fortunate you are, no matter what you’re doing in life,” said Crombeen. “Whether you’re playing hockey or working or whatever you’re doing, you come here and see how fortunate you are when you see what these kids are going through on a day to day basis. You really give them credit for how hard they fight every day.
“It’s great to see them and anything you can do to put a smile on their face is good for us.”
The entire Blues roster was split into four groups Tuesday. Halak, Berglund and Crombeen were among a group that visited the cancer floor at Cardinal Glennon. Others visited patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Ranken Jordan Pediatric Specialty Hospital and Shriners Hospital.
Often times, the players find they are left with as much of a lasting impression as the children.
“Every time you leave something like this, it leaves a special feeling inside yourself, knowing that we made a kid smile today after a lot of them have been here for a long time,” said defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo
. “A couple of them we met are getting out (of the hospital today), so that made it extra special. I think as players, we’re fortunate enough to be able to do what we do. You can never take anything for granted. It’s really special when we’re asked to do something like this.”
It’s unfortunate, but stories like Michael’s are all too familiar. Less than an hour into the visit, the players had visited cancer patients, recently-out-of-surgery patients, and even some in the intensive care ward of the hospital.
“I think days like this really sink in," said Blues forward Alex Steen
. "The things the kids go through and how strong they are, to have the chance to give them something new to think about for even just a short time, it's a pretty special day for everybody, not just for the kids, but for us, too.
“You always feel grateful for everything you have. Some days you come down here and it just re-emphasizes that. It was a very important day for us.”
Hospital visits are nothing new for the Blues. In October, several players visited hospitals as part of Hockey Fights Cancer Month. In early November, others dropped by a Veteran’s Hospital for Veteran’s Day. Sometimes, players show up unannounced with rarely any attention or coverage from the media.
It’s all part of giving back to a community that has given so much to the Blues.
“We put a smile on their faces and we try to make the best of the moment and have fun with the kids,” said Colaiacovo. “There’s nothing like seeing a kid smile."