By Jesse D. Eisenberg
Four-wheeled mountains of stuffed animals and dolls, footballs and baseball mitts, DVDs and videogames were carefully guided through the pediatric wings of hospitals across Long Island, as Bridgeport Sound Tigers players deposited the precious cargo in guest rooms and activity centers along the way.
Now in its sixth consecutive year, the club’s annual holiday gift-giving event saw 11 Sound Tigers disperse to five hospitals to interact with children who are spending the holiday season away from home.
“This is our most exciting event of the year and we can’t thank the Sound Tigers enough for coming today,” Nikki Adams, a Child Life Specialist at Winthrop University Hospital said. “We provide daily programming to help keep our pediatric patients comfortable and happy, but once a year we know to expect a whole new level of excitement and fun when the team comes to hand out presents.”
Everything the club could get its hands on a week earlier at Toys R Us was up for grabs, thanks to a partnership with National Arbitration and Mediation. In addition to Winthrop, the team visited the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Northshore Hospital, St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital and Nassau University Medical Center.
“The highlight of the day was really getting to see the kids smile,” goaltender Kevin Poulin said. “A lot of them have been in the hospital for a while now, so watching them light up when they saw the toy cart and then getting to play with them made my day.”
These days really put everything in perspective for us - Kevin Poulin
Gifts, autographs and pictures were only the start of each patient’s bed-side visit. Calvin de Haan and Casey Cizikas offered homework help at St. Mary’s; David Ullstrom and Anders Nilsson showed off their arts and crafts expertise at Northshore; and Johan Sundstrom and John Persson clumsily toppled Jenga blocks at Winthrop.
“I had a lot of fun today,” Sundstrom said. “We visited a lot of children who are fighting cancer. We played a lot of games and there were a lot of smiles. It was a good day.”
Several patients weren’t able to enjoy such close one-on-one time with players due to isolation orders, designed to keep their hospital rooms as sterile as possible. One such patient, Nicholas Pedone, accepted his gift from a nurse go-between, but the players found another way to brighten the avid sports fan’s day. Pedone and his family have been building a campaign to raise awareness for his disease, Neuroblastoma. It didn’t take long for Pedone’s new teammates to learn about his ongoing fight and to spread the word, tweeting their support with links to his website and facebook page.
The icing on the cake for every patient came in the form of free tickets to upcoming Sound Tigers games. With empty carts, and their next home game scheduled for Wednesday night, the players headed back to Bridgeport immediately following the event.
“These days really put everything in perspective for us,” Poulin said. “You won’t hear guys complaining about the long drives or the early practices after having such a positive day with these kids.”