Senior Bowl players visit children in hospital: ‘That was the highlight of my stay’

-c9185b839f26d609On a chilly, rainy, dreary Friday morning, 30 college football players in town to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl on Saturday spent a couple of hours at the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital in Mobile, visiting kids in their hospital rooms.

A group of several young men wearing their Senior Bowl jerseys, all standing over 6 feet tall, entered the room of six-week-old Iviona Harcum. “Y’all can hold her,” said the baby’s mother, Jasmin Jones. The baby had been in intensive care due to dehydration until she was moved to a room the day before, Jones said.

Geneo Grissom from the University of Oklahoma, #85 on the South team, took Iviona first. “Can I get a smile?” he asked her gently. “I see it coming!”

Two other players held Iviona, including Daryl Williams, also of the University of Oklahoma and #78 on the South team. “Hey, baby girl,” he said, and she sneezed, her little pink socks poking out of the hospital blanket.

“Y’all look like giants holding that baby,” observed a friend of Iviona’s mother, as she took pictures of the football players holding Iviona, who, she remarked, was about the size of a football.

In some of the rooms, the children didn’t or couldn’t say much, but their faces lit up to see such tall visitors crowding into their rooms. LaJayvia Jones lay in her bed and looked up at them. LaJayvia, who has pulmonary hypertension, contracted meningitis in 2009, said her mother, Melvita Leatherwood.

“This is our home away from home,” she said.

Leatherwood pointed out that her daughter’s shirt read “Life is sweet.” “We’re having a great day today,” Leatherwood said, taking an autographed toy football from one of the players.

In Jalen Weaver’s room, the players were entertained by the two-year-old, who yelled “Hut! Hut!” and tossed the toy football they gave him back and forth. Dressed in a hospital gown with a diaper sticking out the back, with red socks on his feet, Jalen demonstrated his “touchdown dance” for the players as they clapped and cheered.

“He loves football. He thrives on it,” said Jalen’s mother, Sylvia Weaver.

About a dozen players surrounded Bryce Miller’s bed. Bryce was admitted for asthma with a touch of pneumonia, said his father, Dreau Miller of Ocean Springs, Miss. “He’s been here off and on since he was born,” Miller said of his 5-year-old son.

Miller, who was wearing a Dallas Cowboys hat and pullover, said his son is also a Cowboys fan.

“Hey Bryce, man, you get better, all right?” said Lynden Trail of Norfolk State, #97 on the South team, as he left the room.

Having the players visit 6-year-old Harris Fraser was “an exciting moment,” said his mother, Courtney Fraser of Mobile. “We’ve been looking forward to it since last night.”

Harris, who was in the hospital having some gastrointestinal procedures done, was especially proud of a University of Alabama bear that he happened to have in the hospital. Two Alabama players, Austin Shepherd, #79, and Arie Kouandijo, #77, both on the South team, signed it for him.

“Knowing they were coming made it a lot more bearable,” Fraser said of her son’s hospital stay.

Harris was impressed by Dillon Day of Mississippi State, #63 on the South team, because they have the same color blond hair. “But his is long, like a girl’s,” Harris said. “And he has tattoos all over his arms!”

Outside Harris’s room, Kouandijo said that visiting the hospital meant as much to him as it did for the patients. “It’s a great experience seeing the kids and putting smiles on their faces,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of smiles, too. I love doing this kind of stuff.”

Faith Sengbixay, 7 years old, has spina bifida, so she sits in a wheelchair. She was in the third-floor classroom working with her teacher, Kristin Bearden, and learning to write her name. Faith was adopted from China in September, Bearden said, and has made “amazing” progress learning English.

“She had a great time talking to the guys and the Reese’s mascot,” said Bearden. “She waved to them and hammed it up.”

Faith continued to write her name again and again with a red marker, oblivious to the football players behind her sitting on tiny chairs as they autographed two posters for another teacher, Anne Vella.

“She’s in school now,” Bearden explained of Faith’s focus on her work. “The sky’s the limit for this kid.”

In yet another patient’s room, Ana McCarty, 11 years old, of Ocean Springs, Miss., said she prefers basketball over football. But still, shaking each player’s hand was exciting to her.

“Can we take a selfie?” she asked, and six players cheerfully gathered around her bed and obliged.

Ana has been in the hospital for a week already, said her mother, Latrina Graves McCarty. “We think she has Crohn’s Disease. She’s on antibiotics and has regained about 7 pounds this week.”

After they signed autographs in her spiral notebook, the players left Ana’s room. “That was the highlight of my stay,” she said with a big smile.

Going to USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital was a highlight of Rob Havenstein’s visit to Mobile, he said. “Anytime you can get involved in the community, it’s a happy day,” said Havenstein of the University of Wisconsin, #78 on the North team. “Knowing we can brighten the day for a little bit makes everything worth it.”

By: Michelle Matthews Source

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