DETROIT – Alicia Yon was tickled pink, literally.
The 14-year-old’s cheeks were as rosy as her sweatshirt as she held up her right arm, high-fiving her favorite Red Wings players one by one as they entered Children’s Hospital of Michigan.
“As you can see, I’m so speechless right now, I’m so excited,” Alicia said. “It’s a blessing to meet my favorite Red Wings players, it’s awesome.”
Looking at the young, bright-eyed girl, you would never guess that she suffers from astrocytoma, a type of cancer of the brain. As she excitedly took pictures and received autographs from Henrik Zetterberg, Brendan Smith, Daniel Alfredsson and coach Mike Babcock, Alicia’s younger brother, Isaac, was never far behind.
“Whenever it comes to hockey or Red Wings, Alicia is the happiest person in the world,” Isaac said.
Isaac is a patient at the hospital as well, suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The 13-year-old almost missed the Red Wings visit due to his health, but sported a smile as big as his sister’s as he walked among the players.
“It means everything, it means everything,” said Candie Yon, Alicia and Isaac’s mother. “These kids, with Isaac he gets chemotherapy three days in a row and just last night he was so sick, he was sick all morning and for him to come in today and just be smiling from ear to ear, it changes their whole demeanor.
“He can’t go to school, she has days where she can’t go to school and it’s hard. It’s hard. These things are hard on kids and when they have the Red Wings come down here just to talk to them, just to say hello, just to sign calendars, it might not seem like it’s a lot, it’s huge. It is huge.”
It certainly was a huge day for Alicia. Aside from the pictures and autographs, the Southgate, Michigan, resident proudly took a seat next to and interviewed her favorite player, Zetterberg.
“Heaven,” Alicia said of the interview. “It was, it really was. I love Henrik Zetterberg so it was awesome.”
The Red Wings’ captain enjoyed the interview and entire experience just as much as his young fan.
“She did a great job, too,” Zetterberg said. “I thought it was one of the media people here, but it’s awesome. You really get energized when you’re here and it’s all about having a great time with the kids and their family.”
Babcock and the Red Wings make their annual visit to the hospital to bring holiday cheer to the children and families, but often leave with smiles on their faces as big and genuine as the ones they inspire.
“It’s like when you give presents to somebody on Christmas or on their birthday, their whole face, their whole heart lights up and just for them to see us, it’s like that same reaction so it’s unbelievable actually,” Smith said. “It’s quite an experience and I love how we set it up like this. It’s pretty impressive.”
The organization’s support of Children’s Hospital of Michigan over the years is greatly appreciated by everyone at the Detroit Medical Center.
“I can tell you that there is no team, no community organization, no group of human beings that have been more supportive, more kind to the children of this hospital than the Ilitch family and the Detroit Red Wings,” said Herman Gray, president of Children’s Hospital of Michigan. “And we are really grateful for it. You have stood up when things were going great, you have stood up when things were going not quite as great but you’ve always been there for us.”
Babcock is a frequent visitor at the hospital and knows the opportunity he and his players have to make even a small difference in the lives of the children and their families can never be underestimated.
“Number one I think it’s very, very important to give back,” Babcock said. “Number two, though, is it’s perspective. You know, we’re blessed people we’ve had some things go well for us so it’s important that we find the opportunity and time to give back.”
Judging by the smiles, laughs and tears from the young patients and their families, the visit was a small gesture that made a huge difference during difficult times.
“I have two kids that come down here and our life consists of doctor’s visits and chemotherapy treatments and when they come down here and do things like this, it makes all the difference in the world,” Candie Yon said. “This is a memory that they will have forever and ever and ever and I’m sure I will hear about this every day for the next year.”
“Or three,” Alicia chimed in.
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