Carter Holt was too busy being a supportive big brother to celebrate his fifth birthday in April, so the Los Angeles Kings showed up to throw him a surprise party at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles on Friday.
Carter turned 5 years old on April 14, but the day before his birthday, his 3-year-old brother Forrest Holt had to be admitted to CHLA because of a staph infection.
Doctors discovered Forrest had a large vascular malformation on his right leg when his mother Tonia Reynolds was 18 weeks pregnant. The condition causes a large mass on the body, and it, along with a blood disorder, has led to numerous complications, lengthy hospital stays and several occasions when Forrest has nearly lost his life. Reynolds gave birth to Forrest seven weeks premature in Germany where the boys' father, Timothy Holt, was stationed in the U.S. Army.
Forrest spent all but a few days of the first year of his life in the hospital and was airlifted at one point through the Wounded Warriors Project to receive care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Children's National Hospital in Washington D.C.
It was during this time, when the family was living out of a suitcase in the Ronald McDonald House, which had Washington Capitals tickets from time to time, that Carter fell in love with hockey.
Once Timothy left the Army, the family moved closer to Reynolds' family in Santa Barbara, California, and Forrest began going to CHLA in November 2014. They scheduled a surgery for him for June 2016, but he had complications each time they tried to prep him for the procedure.
The outlook became bleak, and when he got the staph infection in April, Carter's birthday party was cancelled.
The family has been living in the Ronald McDonald House for the past six months, where Reynolds has been home-schooling Carter, the ever-attentive older sibling.
"He holds his hand and plays with him," Reynolds said. "He's still his big brother, and even if [Forrest] isn't awake, he'll say 'Hi' and 'Bye' to him every day."
When the Kings reached out to CHLA to find out if there were any patients who were big hockey fans, several CHLA staff members suggested Carter, who often dresses Forrest in Kings gear. Forrest also cheers whenever Carter scores a goal playing his hockey video games.
Reynolds said they'd taken part in smaller-scale activities at the hospital, and Carter expected he was going to just another arts and crafts event, though his mom told him to wear his Kings shirt for this one. He was totally stunned to see a Kings-themed celebration in his honor with family, friends and hospital staff, but he had no idea what else was coming.
"He was so excited, and after about 15 minutes when he calmed down a little, they said, 'We have one more thing,'" Reynolds said.
That's when Kings players Tyler Toffoli, Jonathan Quick and Tanner Person walked out to the hospital patio to play a little hockey and deliver a few gifts, including a personalized Kings jersey, signed pucks and an Xbox with a few games. Kings mascot Bailey and the Kings Ice Crew were also on hand.
Carter, by pure coincidence, told his mother the night before that he wanted to meet Kings forward Jeff Carter one day because they have the same name. Jeff Carter couldn't attend the party because his wife Megan gave birth on Tuesday, so his teammates called him up to video chat with the birthday boy. Kings forward Anze Kopitar also sent a video praising Carter for being such a great big brother.
The party had such a big impact on Carter, Reynolds said with a laugh, he believed he had turned 6 years old.
"He was on cloud nine," Reynolds said.
The family was expecting Forrest to be in the hospital for three weeks, and it's been six months and counting. They started a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ForrestHoltStrong) for Forrest in hopes of getting support to help pay their living expenses, which they've struggled to do through his unforeseen complications.
But for one afternoon, for a couple of hours, all of their hardships vanished thanks to a positively royal belated birthday party.
Said Reynolds: "It was just magic."