Noah Barberena was given the opportunity to try the sport of hockey for the first time in the most unlikely place - the hallway of the Oncology wing at CHOC Children's Hospital.
The 10-year old had just been admitted for radiation treatment in his battle against a form of bone cancer called Ewing's sarcoma when he met up with Ducks players Ryan Getzlaf, John Gibson, Cam Fowler, Troy Terry and Jakob Silfverberg in CHOC's fifth floor playroom.
After singing some Christmas carols with the players, Noah was presented with a Wild Wingers Kids Club kit, and within minutes he was wearing the Ducks t-shirt included in the box. He then grabbed a hockey stick and headed out to the hallway, with his IV pole in tow, to take some shots on Ondrej Kase and Michael Del Zotto, who were manning the nets in a ball hockey pickup game organized for the patients.
What is normally a dark and stressful time for Noah became a little brighter, thanks to the Ducks.
"It's fun to meet new people and hang out with these guys," Noah said. "It's been really good."
The visit to CHOC by the Ducks was part of the club's celebration of the season, a time for the players to spread some cheer to the brave kids who are at the hospital receiving care during the holidays. In addition to distributing the Wild Wingers Kids Club kits to the patients and their families, this year's visit also included The Rinks "Hockey in the Hallway" program, an opportunity for kids to be introduced to hockey by playing the sport in the corridors of the hospital.
"A few years back, we had talked about for those who can't get out to a rink to play, maybe bringing that experience to them here," said Marketing Director of The Rinks Jesse Chatfield. "It's been a great break for the kids, and we've heard a lot of positive feedback from the families. If we need to bring hockey to them, we're more than happy to do so."
Noah has been coming to CHOC for treatment since August of this year, when a baseball injury led to the discovery of a cancer diagnosis. His current round of radiation will conclude in time for him to be home for Christmas, but in the meantime the chance to meet some professional hockey players and try a new sport put a huge smile on his face.
"It means everything," said Noah's mother, Heather Barberena. "CHOC is wonderful that way. They do so many events here. He usually has a baseball bat in his hand, but maybe now we will go to hockey. For him to be active and maybe like a new sport is priceless."
Having spent time at CHOC both as a player and a parent, Getzlaf knows the impact visits like these can have on a young patient who is in the midst of a difficult time.
"Hopefully they get as much joy out of it as we do," he said. "I know how it can feel confined when you're here. So it's nice to be able to come in and see some smiles and give these kids something different that they haven't seen in a few days or weeks."
For Terry, his first visit to CHOC was something he had been anticipating for some time.
"I knew that the kids would appreciate it, but I didn't know to what extent," Terry said. "There hasn't been a kid that we went in to see that hasn't been thrilled with a big smile on their face. These kids are going through a lot. It's unfair, so they deserve to have the best treatment and the best situation that they can. It's awesome to be able to help them…and it just makes you appreciate everything."
CHOC Marketing Events Manager Courtney Cheney Toney knows firsthand what a visit from the Ducks can mean to a child who is in the hospital during holidays.
Eighteen years ago, Cheney Toney was a 16-year old patient at CHOC receiving treatment for the same cancer that Noah is currently fighting. A Christmastime visit from two Mighty Ducks players changed her entire outlook.
"I remember it vividly," said Cheney Toney. "I was in my room, and I wasn't feeling great that day. It's not every day that someone knocks on your door and says they have a couple of Ducks players that want to say hi. They stayed and talked with me for a few minutes, and it made a big impact."
Cancer-free for 18 years, Cheney Toney has come full circle and is now helping to organize the same type of experiences for CHOC patients that left such an indelible imprint on her own life.
"When I look back, there are moments that stand out from when I was at the hospital, the good moments," Cheney Toney said. "There are a lot of dark moments, but you can see these bright moments shining through, like meeting professional athletes, these extraordinary things that you got to do in the midst of the hardest time of your life."