By Akasha Di Tomasso – Raptors.com
On Thursday, January 16th, the Toronto Raptors spent a few hours with some of their smallest but strongest fans.
The team paid their annual visit to SickKids Hospital in downtown Toronto, a long-standing team tradition. With many new faces on the team this season, it would be the first time that many of the Raptors had a chance to visit the hospital.
The day began with Susie Petro, Child Life Specialist at SickKids, describing the visit to the players. As Susie spoke, the motivation for the day became resoundingly clear – especially as she explained that some isolation patients would need to wave at the players from their beds instead of being able to come down to Marnie’s Lounge, the area where the players could play and chat with patients.
Raptors guard Kyle Lowry commented on what a humbling experience the visit can be, saying “I’m always excited to be here, this is the most important thing for us.
“We do a job, but these kids go through something every single day and they go through life problems. We go through a bit of a bump here and there, and these kids make those bumps feel like nothing.”
When the time came for the players to make their debut in Marnie’s Lounge, the players spread out across the room, and memories and friendships were made.
DeMar DeRozan had a NBA 2K14 showdown with a young fan named Matthew. Another patient made a confident bet that Chuck Hayes couldn’t beat him at the card game UNO, which Hayes immediately took him up on. Amir Johnson and Steve Novak let young Brooklyn in on a secret — Johnson has his own bathrobe in the locker room similar to her own.
Head Coach Dwane Casey had some insight about why the players connect so deeply with SickKids.
“They’re excited. They do a great job. All of our guys are giving guys, they understand what this means to the kids – and I think that’s the most important thing,” said Casey, “And most of the guys have kids as well, so they have empathy for what the parents are going through.”
DeRozan, who recently became a father, made an effort to keep the patients smiling throughout the wards, enthusiastically wishing a little boy a “Happy Birthday” from the Raptors. When a young patient donned the scarf and headband the players gave her, he singled her out saying, “You look awesome.”
DeRozan has been a part of the visit before, and knows how much it means to the kids.
“I definitely think the kids are excited, this is my fifth time doing it, coming here,” he said. “It’s always great just seeing the kids’ faces light up when we come in. There are a lot of fans and to come in here and give them a little joy… it means a lot.”
For 14 year old Amanda, the day was a welcome break from the usual day-to-day life at the hospital. She couldn’t pick a favourite player, but she’s excited to one day see the Raptors play a game at Air Canada Centre.
Her father Kevin Brady commented on how great the visit is for the kids, saying “They don’t get a lot of smiles; something like this fills their day and gives them something to look forward to.”
All patients received a Raptors scarf, headband and lanyard but at the request of a fan, the team also brought along a gift that could help some patients in their recovery.
Last week, Air Canada Centre’s Fan Services department received an email from a grateful fan that had an incredible experience with the thundersticks he received at the Raptors Home Opener on October 30th, 2013.
The fan gave the thundersticks to his friend’s young son – a former patient of SickKids – who is autistic. The boy adored them and his physiotherapist has credited the toys with helping his patient improve his ability to clap his hands. Upon hearing this, the Fan Services department immediately mailed more to the family to help him continue with his therapy.
The fan’s email suggested that perhaps the Raptors should bring thundersticks to SickKids the next time the team visited, so that more patients could experience the joy and therapeutic benefits. The Raptors made sure that the hospital had an ample supply of thundersticks for patients to enjoy.
“We’re excited to try to put smiles on these kids’ faces” said DeRozan, “just help them get through the things they’ve been going through since they’ve been in the hospital.”
After walking the various wards of the hospital, it was time to say goodbye and it was obvious that the visit had left the patients and the players with something to smile about.
To find out more about SickKids Hospital in Toronto visit: http://www.sickkids.ca/
To find out more about Raptors in the Community visit: http://www.nba.com/raptors/community