Hospitals are not typically a place you look forward to going, especially when you’re a frequent visitor. But when Pam Duffy heard who was coming to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital on Monday afternoon, she hurried her five kids home from school, got them dressed, and brought them up to the facility to meet the special visitors: Islanders Head Coach Jack Capuano and Assistant Coach Doug Weight.
The Islanders coaches were visiting different sections of the hospital, delivering toys and holiday cheer for patients like Duffy’s son, Joseph, a 7-year-old who has been coming to the hospital for a year-and-a-half. Joseph has Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, or “ITP”, which causes his blood platelet level to drop, preventing his blood from clotting if he gets a bruise or cut.
Hockey is the sport of choice in the Duffy family. Although Joseph’s mom and sister don’t skate, his dad and three brothers do. In fact, it was after a series of hockey-related bruises refused to heal on Joseph’s body that his mom decided to have the doctors take a look.
“The only reason we found out he had the condition is because he went for a visit, and had several bruises on his legs from playing hockey, and after they did tests, they diagnosed him with ITP,” Pam said.
Joseph was hospitalized for three days last February when his platelet level dropped too low. But Joseph’s disease isn’t a life sentence. In fact, his mom is waiting for the day he is cleared to play the sport again.
“He used to play hockey and we’re waiting to get everything stable, and then he’ll be back to playing again,” Pam said. “At this point, it’s too dangerous. The doctors told me that he absolutely cannot skate. We just pray. The doctors said he can outgrow this, and I know when he does he’s going to get back on that ice.”
Some of the patients at Stony Brook, like Joseph, will most likely get to spend the holidays at home with family. Others aren’t as fortunate, and will instead be at the facility, an unfortunate truth that made Monday’s visit even more rewarding for the coaches.
“Some of these kids won’t have the opportunity to spend the holidays at home,” Capuano said. “I got that feeling in my stomach today of how fortunate I am, and how fortunate we all are, and some kids don’t have that opportunity. Any time you get a chance to come out here and watch kids smile and ask questions, and meet the families, it gives a little bit of relief for them, because some spend quite a bit of time in these hospital rooms.”
Paulette Walter, a certified child life specialist at Stony Brook, says the visit from the Islanders coaches was uplifting, not only for the patients, but for many of their parents as well. After all, having a child in the hospital is a burden for the whole family.
“The parents can relate to these adults and they need a lift too sometimes,” Walter said. “This is something tangible. I think that’s real for the kids and the parents. You see these guys on TV, you see them if you go to a game, but if people are actually talking to you, it makes a big difference. And you couldn’t ask for two nicer guys than Jack Capuano and Doug Weight.”
Capuano and Weight stopped to see every patient they could and stayed later than originally planned in order to visit more kids and leave presents for the ones who they weren’t able to see. The coaches answered questions and stopped for pictures with anyone who wanted one, and even threw a football around with one of the younger patients.
“It’s always great to see their faces light up and to meet their families as well,” Weight said. “The kids are so resilient, but to see their siblings, their moms and dads, it’s painful, and it’s a tough time for them. So we just pray for all of them and pass along our wishes, give them some gifts, and hopefully light up their day a little bit. It’s the least we can do.”
The coaches also gave the Duffy brothers some hockey tips that they will undoubtedly use the next time they hit the ice. And in Joseph’s case, hopefully that’s sooner than later.
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