Carol, a patient at the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside, couldn’t have been more thrilled about the surprise visitor that stopped by her room Tuesday morning.
When Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma dropped by for a chat, she excitedly asked him to autograph something for her 15-year-old son Ryan, a Pittsburgh sports fanatic.
“This is too much,” Carol said as Coach gladly signed a blue Penguins hat and handed it to her. “(My son) is going to love this. He’s going to be so happy. This brightened my day.”
Bylsma spent the morning visiting patients at the facility and having lengthy, fantastic conversations with them and their families on so many topics, including children, grandchildren, favorite Penguins players, living in Pittsburgh, Bylsma’s home state of Michigan, football, baseball and the weather.
The discussions tended to get animated, with plenty of jokes, smiles and laughter being shared – which is the greatest reward Bylsma could have hoped to receive during his time with the patients.
“The best thing about the time I spend with most people is that they seem to brighten up the room when we have a chance to talk,” Bylsma said. “We talked about their favorite player or their son or daughter playing hockey. I got a couple prospects for the future, talking about a 5-, 7-, 15-year old. I did some scouting here at the Hillman Center and seeing where some of the Pittsburgh kids are playing, people talking about their kids and grandkids.
“To see the smiles and see those people, who are going through some tough times and tough treatments, brighten up was a plus as we went around today.”
At the end of each visit, Bylsma gave each patient an autographed Penguins baseball cap and a copy of the Penguins’ web-based series “In the Room.”
And the patients couldn’t have been more grateful for the unexpected visits, which helped them get through an otherwise emotionally and physically draining day at the hospital.
“This is just so nice that he’s able to come into a place and uplift spirits,” said Karen Hartz, a patient who got her picture taken with the Penguins coach. “It’s super.”
“This is incredible for our patients because they come here for treatment and it’s not easy for them,” said Jennifer Yates, manager of media relations for the Hillman Cancer Center. “To have someone come in and cheer them up and talk to them, especially someone like coach Dan, it’s wonderful.”
And while the conversations touched on numerous topics, Bylsma made sure to ask each patient how they were feeling. And for someone like him, whose job as a coach is to motivate his players and get them excited about coming to the rink each day, this day couldn’t have been more inspiring for him based on the responses he received.
“I’m not sure that they didn’t do more coaching and motivating for me,” Bylsma said. “They are some pretty special people. It’s a unique attitude. I heard that numerous times today. Attitude is the most important thing. I heard a bunch of people today say, ‘I’m going to beat this.’ That type of fight and attitude, you saw it from patient to patient. I got more motivated today than I motivated them.”
Shortly after Bylsma left the building, Karen was sitting outside in the gorgeous weather waiting to be picked up. She had traded the black-and-gray hat she had worn upstairs for her brand-new, autographed Penguins cap from Coach.
“That made my treatment go a lot faster today,” she smiled.