Touching lives through holiday hospital visits
The Islanders help spread holiday cheer by visiting sick and disabled children at seven local hospitals and one special school
Wednesday, 12.07.2011 / 9:36 PM / Community
By Dyan LeBourdais
All too often though, families are hit with unexpected illnesses or injuries, and their lives are changed. Instead of parents staying up late shopping for last minute gifts online, they sit anxiously by the foot of their child’s hospital bed, spending hours in a hospital each week. For those families, holidays can be an extremely difficult time of year.
|New York Islanders Rick DiPietro and Dylan Reese take a photo with five-year-old Jake Brunette during their Holiday Hospital Visit to Steven and Alexandra Cohen's Children's Medical Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Click photo to view a gallery.
John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Rick DiPietro, Mark Streit and Dylan Reese ventured to Steven and Alexandra Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park to play Santa for the day. The four players broke down into two teams to spread holiday cheer to as many children as possible. The players traveled to a dozen different wings of the hospital with toys in tow.
“It’s just a good opportunity to give back to the community,” Reese said. “We are all really lucky, especially the guys on the team. Sometimes we can take for granted, but just being here, we can see the smiles on people’s faces and that we can help bring happiness. It’s really something special and it gives you a nice, warm feeling inside. Around the holidays, it’s especially important.”
Nearly every player on the Islanders roster, healthy and injured, traveled to visit children in their communities who needed them. Also included in the eight visits were: Nassau University Medical Center (Al Montoya, Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo), Winthrop University Hospital (Frans Nielsen, Jay Pandolfo, Josh Bailey, Kevin Poulin), Stony Brook Hospital (Travis Hamonic, Micheal Haley, Tim Wallace), Good Samaritan Hospital (Michael Grabner, Marty Reasoner, Mark Eaton), St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital (Brian Rolston, Andrew MacDonald, Steve Staios), North Shore Hospital, Manhasset (Milan Jurcina, Nino Niederreiter) and Henry Viscardi School: The National Center for Disabilities (Mike Mottau, PA Parenteau, David Ullstrom).
Visiting each facility for over two hours, the players played games with kids and walked door-to-door, bedside-to-bedside, hoping to make all the kids laugh, forget that they were sick and truly act like their age, even if it was for only a little while.
|New York Islanders John Tavares, Matt Moulson and Rick DiPietro take a photo with a patient during their Holiday Hospital Visit to Steven and Alexandra Cohen's Children's Medical Center on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. Click photo to view a gallery.
The director of Steven and Alexandra Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, AnnMarie DiFrancesca, helped escort the players around her hospital. After watching the Islanders return year after year, she couldn’t be more thrilled with the effect their visit has on patients and their families.
“They really empower the kids to get out of bed,” DiFrancesca said. “It’s an incentive. It’s excitement. It makes the holiday season so much better, especially for many of our kids that are here during the holiday season.”
DiFrancesca continued, “When families are typically at home and preparing for the holidays, these kids are kind of left out, being in the hospital. These visits are truly a treat for our kids. The hockey players, all of them, are fabulous with the kids. They really spend time with all the kids.”
Tavares had a special connection with 12-year-old Francesco Galvarno. An avid soccer player from Tappan, NY, in Rockland County, Galvarno couldn’t stop talking about the sport he loves and played competitively for many years. Even though he can’t play right now because he’s sick, Francesco proudly showed off a newspaper article about his older brother Giovanni.
From the time Tavares, Moulson and DiPietro walked in to Francesco’s room, he was standing up and cracking jokes. He talked to the players about his brothers, his love for playing soccer and learning to play the guitar.
Even after they left the room, Francesco couldn’t stop smiling. He said, “I’m a rockin’ soul. I was excited to see them. It was very nice, just awesome.”
Enzo Galvarno later found the players in hospital hallway and said, “Thank you so much, you made this very special for him.”
That’s what these trips are for. And that’s what the holiday season is all about.