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Isles Spread Holiday Cheer, Gifts at Hospitals

by Cory Wright / New York Islanders

Brett Richter had always been inspired by the Islanders annual hospital visits, but never thought he’d be the one who would need some inspiration.

Truth be told, the new father, who gets his daughter ready for bed in the second period so he can watch the third, never wanted to be in that situation.

Richter’s newborn daughter is currently at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola with an upper respiratory virus called RSV. To an adult, it’s more like a cold, but for an infant, it’s a condition that requires hospitalization and an IV. The Richters said there’s a lot of negativity that comes with their current situation, but a visit from the Islanders, who gave out toys at seven Long Island/Brooklyn-area hospitals Thursday, goes a long way.

“Seeing them buy the gifts and then disperse all over the town, you never realize how much it touches that person, until you’re in that situation,” Richter said. “It really lifts your spirits and takes your mind off of what you are going through at the moment.”

In those moments, with beaming kids, hugs and handshakes, it’s almost as if the hospital walls just fall away. Plight is momentarily forgotten and the parents say these kids will talk about Thursday for the next year.

The Islanders remember these moments too. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, Josh Bailey and Jaroslav Halak were treated like rockstars when they walked through the doors of the children’s cancer center at Winthrop. The best kind of chaos ensued, with little ones dashing back and forth for autographs and pictures.

Even after years of visiting kids in the hospital, or hosting them through his Bailey’s Buddies program, Bailey is still humbled by how much these visits mean to families going through tough times. Turns out making other people happy can have a reciprocal effect.

“You feel sad at times for the kids, but when you leave you feel good that you were able to make a difference and help some kid’s day,” Bailey said. “As much we can brighten up their day, we get some enjoyment out of it as well.”

Not every room is as energetic, but they are all as important. There are difficult things to see and difficult stories to hear in the hospital, especially when children are involved. Some kids are stuck in bed and others get shy around strangers, even if they are recognizable athletes carting around a wagon of toys. That’s where the Islanders’ personalities shine through, making connections and bringing positivity to those going through tough times.

“You can’t blame them for being a little shy. They aren’t feeling well,” Martin said. “You just try to joke with them and the gift always puts a smile on anyone’s face. We sign a few things and really try to do our best to put a smile on their face and make them remember this.”

And the kids definitely do. Juliana Weltner – an 11-year-old girl battling Chron’s disease – still talks about the time Travis Hamonic sent her a hockey stick and a get-well video. Now, she has a new pair of headphones and a new set of memories and pictures to enjoy over Christmas, which should be spent at home.

“She’s really grateful to see the Islanders again,” Christine, her mother, said. “It’s been a really great day.”

The Islanders bought 550 gifts 10 days earlier and also gave out autographed cards and shirts. Those numbers can be measured, but the amount of memories, happiness, gratitude and renewed drive for the kids and their parents is immeasurable.

Just ask the Richters. Or the Weltners. Or the Islanders.

PHOTO GALLERY: ISLANDERS DELIVER GIFTS AT HOSPITALS

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