Six-year-old Luke Lang was speechless as he stood before a table stacked steep with toys inside the Children’s Cancer Center at Winthrop University Hospital. It wasn’t the pile of games, stuffed animals and figurines that took his breath away; it was receiving his new toy football set from Evgeni Nabokov, his favorite Islander.
Lang lit up Wednesday, as Nabokov and teammates Thomas Vanek, Peter Regin and Andrew MacDonald dropped by Winthrop to deliver gifts, hang out with young patients and spread holiday cheer.
“It’s very humbling,” Richard Lang, Luke’s father, said. “It takes them away from what they go through on a daily basis. You can’t put words to it. This will be something they’ll have for the rest of their life.”
Luke, a huge Islanders fan, suffers from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and is currently staying in the Children’s Center at Winthrop’s main building. It’s a tough time for everyone: the brave six-year-old, his mother, father and eight-year-old brother Logan, but the entire family got to share in a special moment Wednesday.
“It’s great for the family,” his father said. “For a father to watch young men be this caring and passionate about these kids… it instills in you that there are people who do care about kids and what’s going on in their life.”
The entire team split off into groups and visited six Long Island hospitals Wednesday, going room-to-room, interacting with kids and putting smiles on faces. While the Islanders are active in the community all-year round, the hospitals visits hold a special place in their hearts.
“It’s tough to see kids in these types of situations,” MacDonald said. “It can be difficult for the parents too, but they really appreciate it. From a player perspective, being able to put a smile on their faces is pretty special and it’s an experience for us that we don’t forget. We really enjoy doing these visits and we take lot from them.”
The visits can put life into perspective for the players, who take a step back from the demands of the NHL season, to appreciate how fortunate they’ve been.
“When you come in here you are really thankful for what you have,” Vanek said. “There are a lot more things in life than just winning and losing hockey games.”
Vanek saw Wednesday through the perspective of a parent. He called the day bittersweet, as he handed out presents and signed autographs.
“It’s hard, especially because I have kids, so it’s hard to see other kids who are sick and hurting,” he said. “But it’s fun for us to go out and give them presents and get them to smile for a little bit and forget what’s going on.”
The players let the kids pick out what they wanted for the holiday season, but offered some suggestions. iPhone cases and headphones were popular with the teenagers, while dolls and Legos went to the younger boys and girls.
The players also gave ticket vouchers to the families, good for any date their children were out of the hospital and well-enough to attend a game.
The Islanders did their part Wednesday, spreading cheer to some of those who needed it most. And the next time the Langs and the other families see the Islanders, they’ll give the cheer back from the stands.