With a smile stretching from ear to ear, 14-year-old Leyda Jorge really had a hard time containing her enthusiasm when the visitors entered her room at Baptist Children’s Hospital.
“Sorry, I’m just really amazed,” Jorge said. “My friends are going to be jealous.”
That, in a nutshell, was what Wednesday’s Miami Dolphins community event was all about. It was about T.D., Odrick, Stanford, Garner,
“I’ve had surgeries where I’ve been away from my family, my friends, my football team,” Odrick said. “That was only for a few days. And I consider myself lucky that it was a few days and it was something that could be fixed. So for kids to be in here for a long stay or a long haul like that, I know how uncomfortable I was in a foreign place. Seeing a whole bunch of wires and cords hooked up to you, it’s not cool. So we just try to get their minds off of it as much as we can and have better, positive thoughts throughout the day.”
On this cool afternoon, the Dolphins contingent spent more than an hour visiting about two dozen children like Leyda. The Dolphins players and cheerleaders split into two groups. The players autographed Dolphins hats for the young patients, while the cheerleaders handed out cheerleader calendars.
The children ranged from 5-year-old Emily Valverde to 19-year-old Michelle Montero.
As is sometimes the case with some of the younger children, Emily seemed a little intimidated by the large players, particularly Odrick and Garner. But she had a nice smile for T.D.
Montero, meanwhile, told the players she’s a dancer and was asked when presented an autographed cheerleader calendar if she hoped to someday be part of the squad. “I’d like to be,” was her reply.
“We really enjoy having experiences like this because it’s a nice break for these kids,” said Bethany Fisackerly, one of the Certified Child Life Specialists at Baptist Children’s Hospital. “A lot of them are stuck in their rooms for long periods of time. It can get very discouraging, especially for those who are here for many days on end. So to have events like this gives them a little break, a distraction from not feeling good.
“In the past, we’ve had girls get excited and get all dressed up because it gives them something to look forward to. It’s also a nice thing for the players and the team to interact with the community and to give back because it’s the hometown team. It’s a sense of ownership that this is our team and they’re coming to see us.”
Definitely count Leyda among those who was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Dolphins.
“When we told her about it earlier today, she was already getting jittery and excited, could not wait,” Fisackerly said. “Some of the others, especially some of the teenage boys, when we told them earlier that this was happening, they perked up, they were sitting, they had a reason to get dressed and get out of bed and something to look forward to.”
The visits also brought a lot of comfort to the young patients’ parents, such as the mother of 12-year-old Janila Johnson.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Shanta Johnson. “They put a smile on my daughter’s face. From her being in the hospital for almost two days now, it was wonderful to see the smile and the brightness that they gave. I’m just excited that they were able to come and do this for the children and make the kids happy.”
For the players, it was a chance to give back and make some kids feel better.
“It’s just a great opportunity come out here and see these kids, just brighten up their day a little bit,” Stanford said. “I know being in the hospital, it’s never a place that you want to spend a lot of time. So just to bring joy on their faces for a little bit, just to come by and say what’s up, I know I’d want it in return. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to come out here and spend time and come hang out with the kids.”
Athletes sometimes find themselves in hospitals because of their profession, but Garner had an earlier experience because his mother is a breast cancer survivor.
“I love giving back to the community,” Garner said. “My mom had cancer when I was young, so I was in hospitals then. I’ve been in the hospital a few times. I just like going and helping people out, making their days a little bit better.
“It gave me a different perspective of hospitals, like it didn’t make me scared of them or anything. Some kids are scared of them and it’s nice to come out and show them that it’s not all bad.”