LETHBRIDGE – With Christmas less than three weeks away, it’s clear that the kids occupying beds in the Chinook Regional Hospital’s Pediatric Ward would rather be almost anywhere else.
For one day though, maybe it’s not so bad.
Six members of the Lethbridge Hurricanes – captain Giorgio Estephan, Jake Elmer, Ryan Vandervlis, Brennan Riddle, Tate Olson and goaltender Stuart Skinner – stopped by the unit Thursday, Dec. 7, visiting children and delivering the bears that were collected during a 4-1 win over Victoria in the annual Teddy Bear Toss game on Dec. 2.
Elmer scored the goal that brought on the avalanche of bears, beating Royal’s netminder Griffen Outhouse on a short-handed breakaway in the first period.
“It's a special moment when you score a big goal like that,” explained Elmer, after handing out a number of stuffed bears – and one penguin. “It was really special for me to see those bears fly, and really a lot of emotion and a lot of excitement. In the back of my head, you know, you score that goal and you know it's for a good cause. We get to come out here and see the smiles on the faces of the kids that we give the bears to... it's just a really good experience for everyone.
“It's heartwarming,” he added. “Some of these kids are in the hospital for a long time, and you don't know what they're here for. So, it's really good to see just a little smile on their face, a little bit of joy you can bring.”
Brody Stewart was one of the kids the Hurricanes spent time with, shortly before he was discharged following a five-day battle against an infection. A hockey player himself – a centre and left winger – Brody said he was excited to see the hometown club, and got a laugh from the players when he pointed out the fact that Skinner “gave up all the goals” in the 5-1 loss to Brandon that he attended on Dec. 1.
“Between his teammates on his own hockey team, and knowing that the Hurricanes were coming today, he got pretty excited and it kept his spirits high,” said Brody’s mother, Catherine. “This place can get pretty boring for a very active eight-year-old.”
Having played a part in the annual tradition for the last 19-years, the hospital’s child life specialist, Maria Malcolm, discussed the impact the players have on kids staying on the unit.
“The hospital is scary. You're hurt, you're sick, and you have to come here with a bunch of strangers doing strange and painful things to you,” stated Malcolm. “So, to have the Hurricanes walk in and put a smile on the kid's faces, it makes them feel special. The Hurricanes have come to see them after everything bad that's happened to them. So, it really makes a huge difference to the kids, and the parents, too.”
The benefit of the Teddy Bear Toss game goes beyond the one day visit as well, explained Malcolm. She noted that the bears collected are stored and then given to kids when they are brought into the hospital throughout the year.
“Wherever we see kids, we make sure there's bears around so that the kids can get something to hug and to hold onto, which makes a big difference too when we have to do things that aren't very nice,” she continued. “If the kids can snuggle up to a teddy bear, it's much nicer.
While the children and Hurricanes’ players benefit from the event, Malcolm acknowledged that there’s something in it for her as well.
“We have different kids every year, and you get to see so many different kids have a smile on their face, and it's neat seeing the guys in a different atmosphere,” Malcolm said. “They come here, and they are so gracious to the kids and the families. It's really a nice part of my Christmas season.”
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