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Wings surprise kids with hospital visit

Monday, 11.28.2011 / 7:40 PM ET / News
By Bill Roose  -
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Wings surprise kids with hospital visit
DETROIT – It’s been a real rough year – to say the least – for 18-year-old Jenna Green, who has been in and out Children’s Hospital of Michigan more times than she cares to remember.

Born with a physical deformity that caused severe bowing in both of her legs, the Eastpointe teenager was back at the hospital Monday for a scheduled appointment when she saw a large crowd gathering in the first floor lobby.
Johan Franzen and Ty Conklin pose for a photo with a pair of young Red Wings' fans during the team's visit to Children's Hospital of Michigan.
(Photo by Bill Roose)

“I was coming out of the orthopedics office and just saw this giant crowd down here and I was like, ‘I’ve got to go see what it is,’ ” said Green, who hopes to finally have the massive titanium halos and screws removed from her right leg in a couple of weeks.

The lobby crowd that she saw were parents and young patients, doctors and hospital officials, who gathered near the Red Wings Play Zone to welcome their favorite hockey heroes.

“I am completely star-struck,” said Green as she posed for a photo with goalie Ty Conklin. “The Wings are my favorite team, but I never thought that I would be able to meet them, any of them, so to meet even a couple of them is so pretty great.”

Green’s youthful exuberance was repeated over and over on the faces of those children who encountered the Red Wings’ players on their annual visit to the hospital in the heart of the Detroit Medical Center. With approximately 150 sick children in the hospital at any given time, the team’s visit can mean the world to the kids and their families. But the afternoon also means so much to the players, who look forward to this day every year.

“I’ve always liked coming here. It’s a really neat experience and you meet some really cool kids and you always leave with a smile on your face,” Wings forward Johan Franzen said. “It’s something special and a great part of the year when we get to do this.

“It’s hard to know how much it means to them, but I can tell you that it means a lot to me. You remember this for a long time. It’s special.”

For coach Mike Babcock, the hospital visits are part of a commitment that he made several years ago after two close friends each lost a young son to cancer.

“That’s how I got really started with cancer kids and then it led into all kids in general,” Babcock said. “From that point I had already lost my mother (to cancer) and that was it for me. You better get involved and help out the best that you possibly can.”

It’s not unusual for Babcock to make hospital visits on his own to visit sick kids at Children’s Hospital or during training camp at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. He even brought the Stanley Cup to Children’s Hospital following the Wings’ last championship. But the joy on Babcock’s face as he talked to toddlers to teens Monday afternoon was pure gold.
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is interviewed by 3-year-old Javon during the team's visit to Children's Hospital of Michigan (Photo by Bill Roose)

“The thing that you most appreciative is that you have healthy kids,” he said. “As you know, it doesn’t matter who you are – you can wish for a lot of things – but the one thing you need is your health. If you’re healthy you can share yourself with others, and if you’re not healthy you can’t share yourself, so that’s a huge thing.”

Dr. Herman Gray, president of Children’s Hospital, said that the doctors and staff are so indebted to the Wings and the generosity and compassion that they have for the children. “Making the children feel special, even for one day, is really great,” Dr. Gray said.

For the players, making this visit helps bring everything they do as professional athletes into prospective, said captain Nicklas Lidstrom, who is a father of three healthy sons.

“I think you appreciate a lot more the things that you have and you feel even more for the kids when you have kids of your own,” Lidstrom said. “You know how the parents feel when your own kids are sick or they’re not feeling right and you’re very concerned about them. So we feel for the parents that are here and we feel for the kids, too.”

Some members of the team had the opportunity Monday to meet one particular charismatic 3-year-old boy named Javon, who charmed the players and put a big smile on the coach’s face.

Javon was at the hospital for an eye exam, but as soon as he saw the crowd of players and television cameras, he hopped right into the fray, even getting hold of a TV microphone and holding it in front of the Wings’ coach, who played along.

“He’s obviously a special kid who has a lot of gumption,” Babcock said. “I don’t know if he’ll be a reporter, but he would make a good one if he were. Good for him, and good for us and it was great to meet him today.”

For Green, meeting some of her favorite Wings certainly was a silver lining to what has otherwise been a very difficult 10 months, where she also had to battle back from a stroke and kidney failure in the middle of her senior year at East Detroit High School. She’s now taking online courses in order to graduate.

“It does make you feel good that you have the ability to come in and do something for these kids,” Conklin said. “Their good days are tougher than our hardest days, so I think it helps. … I hope it helps.”

It definitely helps, Green said. It’s also a relief to know that her hospital stays could be a thing of the past.

“I won’t be in the hospital for Christmas,” said Green, who will turn 19 on Dec. 22. “So that’s good.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill





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