ST. LOUIS - At first glance, three-year-old Jaxen looks about as happy as any other little boy his age. He’s always wearing an infectious smile that stretches from ear-to-ear, and more often than not, you can find him near a pile of toys that includes race cars, building blocks and a miniature ferris wheel.
Although he hides it well, it’s not easy being Jaxen.
He was born 12 weeks premature and has spent most of his life in the intensive care unit. Right now, that’s at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where he’s being treated for a severe chronic lung disease.
It’s a condition that hits close to home for Blues forward Scottie Upshall, whose family was impacted by a similar diagnosis several years ago. Upshall’s cousin, Kayne, was diagnosed with bronchopulmonary dysplasia, a lung disease that affects infants.
Today, Kayne is seven years old and doing quite well, and that gives Jaxen and his family a bit of hope.
“We’re pulling for him,” Upshall said Wednesday. “Jaxen had a big smile on his face when we showed up, and he still does. Hopefully that’s something he can use to be strong and get better.”
Upshall and the rest of his teammates spent Wednesday afternoon visiting with children at four St. Louis area hospitals as part of the Blues for Kids Foundation launch week.
“It’s tough and it’s never easy, but it’s really special,” Upshall said. “We feel fortunate that we’re able to be healthy and play a game that we love. It’s nice during the holidays to come see the little ones and put a smile on their faces. We’re happy to do it and help them out.”
During the visits, which also included stops at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Ranken Jordan and Mercy, players delivered Blues beanie hats, Bernie Federko mustaches and autograph cards. At each room, players took time to talk with families and take photos to help lift their spirits during the holidays.
“You come in here and see how tough some of these kids are and what they’re going through. For us to come in and try to put a little smile on their face goes a long way and we enjoy coming,” said Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. “The kids are doing a great job hanging in there.”
"A little break in their day from the normal activities of being in the hospital means a lot to them," said goalie Brian Elliott. "But for us, it’s important to see them clap and have fun. It seems like everyone is having a good time."
Patrick Barber, who was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday after a mass was found on his lung, was thrilled to chat with Bortuzzo and goalie Jake Allen. The conversation was mostly about fishing and the types of fish in the ocean, which was good because it kept Patrick from thinking about being stuck in the hospital.
“He loved talking about fishing with them,” said his dad, Roger Barber. “It’s great to see the Blues come out today. It’s great for the community and it really helps these kids whose health isn’t the best right now. Patrick really liked those guys.”
“These kids are incredible with their strength,” Bortuzzo added. “Especially around the holidays like this, if we can come in and put some smiles on their faces, we see how much it means to them. It’s special for us as well.”