Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Gwinnett Gladiators hockey players Joey Haddad, from left, Jason Clark and Andy Brandt deliver a stuffed animal to patient 11-year-old Diana Garcia at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston on Wednesday. Garcia, who is dealing with high blood pressure, was among several dozen children who were visited by six members of the team.
Gwinnett Gladiators visit Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Players from the Gwinnett Gladiator hockey team deliver stuffed animals to kids at the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013. The stuffed animals were collected during the team's annual "Teddy Bear Toss."
ATLANTA — During a rainy, windy Wednesday afternoon, Christopher Hill had no idea he would be in for a treat while laying in his bed at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.
About 2 p.m., he got a knock on the door — and three Gwinnett Gladiators players walked in with his choice of a toy. The 12-year-old suffering from nephrotic syndrome chose the Cat in the Hat. And that was that.
During this past Saturday’s game, the team collected more than 2,000 stuffed animals for its annual Teddy Bear Toss — all of the furry critters were donated by fans, who tossed them on the rink after the Glads scored a goal.
The toys are given to several different organizations, like the Gwinnett County Police Department and the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, but a group of players also take trips to locations to meet with the children, like at Children’s Healthcare.
This is the second year the Glads visited the Emory location.
“It’s really wonderful. We’ve really enjoyed partnering with them because they’re all such great guys with really giving hearts,” said Laura Schiener, volunteer coordinator and special events at the hospital. “I would come have them volunteer every day if I could.”
On Wednesday, the six players in attendance were captain Andy Brandt, Cody Brookwell, Jason Clark, Joey Haddad, Corey Fienhage and Casey Pierro-Zabotel. The guys split off into two teams passing out animals throughout the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Transplant Center. Boys and girls of all ages — including some teens — picked their toy of choice: Horton the elephant, Angry Birds and Sulley from “Monsters, Inc.,” just to name a few.
When the group ran out of animals, the men stopped by other rooms to say, “hello.”
“We ran out of bears and we still stopped by additional rooms because the kids wanted to see the players,” said Dustin Bixby, VP of new media sales and communications for the Gladiators.
The players made their way to CHOA’s radio station, The Voice, which was donated by the Ryan Seacrest Foundation. The show is aired throughout the hospital for those who can’t get out of bed. While on air, the six joked and laughed, even taking one call from a room.
It was Hill. He just wanted to talk some more with the guys, and later made his way downstairs for a photo op.
The guys enjoy visiting CHOA. In addition to the teddy bear delivery, a group comes down once a month to host Bingo for the children.
“It’s fun for us to come down and shed some light on what they’re going through and make them smile a little bit,” Brandt said. “Maybe we take their mind off of what may be ailing them for a short period of time.”
And the Glads will continue visiting the children, because it just feels right, Brandt said.
“For me, it’s gratifying to walk into a room and be able to put a smile on a kid’s face, to light them up a little bit,” he said. “It’s humbling. It makes us feel good about ourselves, but at the same time, we know what they’re going through and we feel for them.”
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