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Bylsma Family Hosts Children with Primary Immune Deficiency Disease

by Staff Writer / Pittsburgh Penguins
Ryan Nese

On Sunday February 26, 2012 the Bylsma family hosted seven children who suffer from Primary Immune Deficiency Disease (PIDD) and their families at the Penguins-Blue Jackets game.

Bryan Bylsma, son of head coach Dan Bylsma, suffers from a mild case of PIDD. This is the third season that Mary Beth Bylsma, wife of Dan Bylsma, has organized this event through the Immune Deficiency Foundation and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

When asked about her involvement with the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), Mary Beth said it’s a great way to help out other families with similar experiences and to draw attention to this issue. Mary Beth stated, “Anything I can do to help raise public awareness and help families that have children with this disease is a bonus.”

Primary Immune Deficiency Disease affects approximately 500,000 individuals in the United States with more than 150 variations of the disease and is often misdiagnosed.

Mary Beth wanted to incorporate the National Hockey League Officials Association because of their program “Zebras Care,” which helps children and their families who are in need, as it ties in well with IDF’s “Think Zebra” campaign. The “Think Zebra” campaign helps promote awareness for Immunodeficiency diseases by encouraging doctors to think zebra when they hear hoof beats. Doctors often overlook this disease because it is rare, but early diagnosis can lead to the patient leading a healthy life.

Upon arrival at CONSOL Energy Center, the families were greeted by Mary Beth and Bryan. They interacted with Coach Bylsma while they collected autographs and took photographs before the game. Aiden O’Shane, age seven, said “it was really cool meeting Coach!”

After meeting Coach Bylsma, the families had the opportunity to meet the NHL officials in their locker room before the game. The officials shared stories with the children about hockey and what they enjoy about their experience.

Referee Kevin Pollock and linesman Jay Sharrers both said how much it means to them to give back to children in need. Linesman Jay Sharrers smiled, “It’s great for the kids to get a behind the scenes look at an NHL game. I remember the thrill of going to an NHL game; it’s great to share that with these children today.”

All the families were then invited to take photographs with the officials at ice level and watch the players on-ice warm up. The children were very excited as Randall, age 16, expressed, “I am having an awesome time! Being able to see the players warm up that close was really cool!”

Greg and Melissa O’Shane echoed how exciting it was for their son. It’s great to have this opportunity because he loves sports, especially hockey. “This opportunity means a lot to us because it allows Aiden to get away from the rigors of treatment.”

Parent John Fisher said “This is more than I expected, I’m just really happy for my son because he loves hockey.”

Back at the suite there were pizza and snacks waiting for everyone to enjoy while watching the game. Iceburgh also stopped by for a visit to take pictures with the children. “It is great meeting new families and spending time with them,” said Bryan Bylsma, age 13. “I am happy to do whatever I can to help other children.”

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