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McKee Visits Oncology Unit at Children's Hospital

by Caitlin Kasunich / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins defenseman Jay McKee spends time coloring with a young patient at Children's Hospital.

For the third time this season, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Jay McKee made a visit to Children’s Hospital after practice on Thursday to meet several excited patients in the hospital’s oncology unit.

After leaving the lobby with its sparkling purple floors and orange- and grape-labeled elevators, McKee strolled through red, yellow, purple, blue and green doorways to take pictures, sign autographs, talk video games and give high-fives to smiling, soft-spoken children and their families.  

“I think it’s great,” McKee said. “It’s an opportunity that I feel very fortunate to have. I’m playing the same game that I played when I was a young kid. To do it at this level and have the opportunity to come to places like this, it’s a small thing for me to go in the room and meet them. It gives me a good feeling to raise their spirits a little bit. I feel pretty blessed that I have that opportunity.”

Surrounded by Valentine’s Day balloons and “Get Well Soon” cards, McKee met six-month-old Ansley in her white crib as her sucked her thumb and gripped her Elmo stuffed animal. Her mother snapped a few pictures of the two as McKee sat on the nearby couch and held Ansley quietly in his lap.

Just a few doors down in one of the hospital’s many play rooms, McKee hung out with two-year-old David, who was coloring with his mother in his Elmo slippers. After picking up a few crayons and colored pencils from the overflowing pile in front of David, McKee drew a smiley face on David’s paper and attempted to draw a Penguin, without much success.

Before leaving, McKee jotted down his first name upside down for David, who unhesitatingly said each letter aloud as he wrote it on the paper.

Voices from “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” echoed throughout another room where McKee talked to 14-year-old Megan, who had a fuzzy Steelers blanket over her body and a teddy bear at the foot of her bed.

“I’m going to have to get you another one of those,” McKee joked, pointing to the blanket.

Jay McKee says that "it's a good feeling" to see the patients smile when he makes a hospital visit.
When the children hear about different players coming to see them in their rooms, they always anticipate their arrival during the day, said Michael Shelock, certified child life specialist at Children’s Hospital.

“When the kids have the opportunity to see the people that they’re watching on TV, that’s the kind of stuff that you want,” he said. “Today, one kid looked at his mom and said, ‘No way!’ Jay didn’t disappoint. He was very personable, and the kids just really enjoy it. They love it.”

Shelock also said that he was working when the team visited the hospital two other times during the season – once during training camp and the other around Christmas time.

“This is a more personal thing,” he said about McKee’s individual visit. “It’s something where he can come in and maybe spend a little bit more time. He sat down with someone and did some coloring. It’s just not something that you get with the whole group, so it’s different in that respect. But, at the same time, it was still very cool.”

McKee has equally fond memories of the team’s earlier visits to the hospital.

“It’s funny,” McKee said. “The kids are going through some tough times, but they all have a great humor to them. The one girl gave Sidney (Crosby) dating tips last time we were here, and she remembered that, and I remembered her. I told her that he’s doing much better this time, so it’s good. They see some familiar faces. At the same time, for me, when I see them, I know they’ve been here for a long time or they’ve been back, and it has to be tough for them. It’s a good feeling to see them smile.”

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