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Surprise of the year

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

In the main corridor of the Mental Health Unit of BC Children’s Hospital, there’s a large white board that is home to the schedule of the day’s events.

Monday, December 5th, was a regular day, beginning with two group meetings from 10-12, followed by lunch, then two hours of schoolwork, before a surprise at 3 p.m.

Surprise was actually written on the board, in bold, with excitement lines coming out of it like the rays of cartoon sun. It had to be something good, if not great, if not grand, and it was.

Just after 3 p.m. Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo, Cody Hodgson, Dale Weise and Alex Edler walked through the door, Vancouver Canucks jerseys on their backs, Sharpies in hand.

The room went from quiet to Biebermania in a heartbeat.

That was the reaction throughout the hospital Monday as the Canucks made their annual visit to BC Children’s Hospital. Divide and conquer was the mindset as the team was split into four groups to ensure no area of the hospital was overlooked.

From the moment the Canucks were unleashed on the hospital, pain, grief and suffering were put on hold, momentarily replaced with overwhelming joy. Children were able to be children again.

There was Christina, a beautiful young girl with light up boots, cute temporary tattoos and the most adorable Go Canucks Go chant you’ll ever hear.

Ivy was too bashful to say hi, as most three-year-olds would be face-to-face with burly athletes. She didn’t shy away from staring down Jannik Hansen though, his Danish melon blocking the episode of Dora the Explorer Ivy was trying to watch.

By chance boisterous Jeff, who received a kidney a few days prior, was wearing his Canucks hat and jersey, which are now both covered in signatures.

Rachelle, a Grade 12 student cooped up in a bed because of broken leg, lit up like a Christmas tree; she blushed so much at the sight of the Canucks her faced matched her bright pink autographed cast.

Then there was Jugpreet, a blind 16-year-old suffering from stomach pains who lost his eyes because of cancer as a child. He expresses himself by singing and when a group of Canucks walked into his room, he burst into song. Down, by Jay Sean, was his song of choice and he sang it so loud the entire third floor of the Oncology Patient Unit could hear it.

There were hundreds of different reactions from the children throughout the afternoon, but only one, elation, from Teri Nicholas, president and CEO of BC Children's Hospital Foundation.

“It’s pretty special to watch, just to see the expressions on their faces and how the entire hospital lights up,” said Nicholas. “Parents often tell us that on the worst day of your life, this is the best place to be and today, for these kids, it’s the best place to be.”

The hospital is such a popular place when the Canucks visit that no one is told when the players are coming.

“It’s truly a surprise and I think that’s part of the magic of it. There are kids here in a lot of pain with tubes and stuff, but for that moment there’s joy and that carries. It has a lasting impact on them and it’s important these kids have those special moments.”

Unlike newbies like David Booth and Maxim Lapierre, making their first visits to the hospital, Sami Salo knew his way around, partially because he’s a visit veteran and also because as a father of three his family has received care at BC Children’s.

Salo has three kids, Peppi, Oliver and Julia, ranging in age from five to 14, so he understands as well as anyone how impactful the Canucks hospital trip is and how little it takes to brighten someone’s day.

“It’s the best day of the year for sure,” beamed Salo. “This is the day that all the players look forward to, putting a little smile on the kids faces and help out any way that we can, especially during the holiday season.

“You just have to bring yourself and it puts a big smile on their face, it’s not big things, it’s little things that make a big difference in the end and that’s all they’re looking for too. Everything else could be going wrong, but even for that few minutes that you’re around them, you can make a big difference.”

The white board in the Mental Health Unit is now back to normal, no larger than life surprises to be had, at least not Canucks-filled ones. Biebermania has ceased, quiet reigns, everyone warm from their moment in the sun with their heroes.

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