Thirteen-year-old Keegan Easterwood from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, simply couldn’t go home from arm surgery until he landed some special autographs on his new cast.
He got his wish, and more, when Detroit Red Wings players Justin Abdelkader, Jakub Kindl, Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar stopped by Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to visit patients.
“We are just about ready to go home, but knew we had to stick around to see the Red Wings first,” he said with a broad grin. “I’m a major athlete and having the chance to see these guys is really inspiring.”
Keegan will need to keep his cast on for four weeks with three months of physical therapy to follow. He picked orange and blue because he is a huge Tigers fan, but had he known he’d be meeting the Red Wings he might have considered the mighty red and white.
Fellow patient Miriam Sawka donned a retro Red Wings jersey for the special visit.
Miriam is from Muskegon and has Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer. Diagnosed in April 2014, she underwent chemotherapy, limb-spare surgery, a hip replacement and has a titanium rod in her leg.
This very day the 14-year-old learned that her scans were clear, meaning no evidence of cancer.
“If I could tell a kid just one thing about having cancer, it’s that you’ve got friends,” she said. “There are other people who have gone through this, and people going through it by your side. There is plenty of support out there for you and you’re not alone. It’s days like today with these amazing guys visiting the hospital that makes all the difference in the world.”
Caitlin Sall of Hudsonville, Michigan, certainly agrees. The 17-year-old is battling a serious case of pneumonia that spread to her blood stream. But nothing would stop this self-proclaimed super fan from enjoying the Red Wings visit.
“I was super excited to meet these guys today!” she exclaimed as she pulled her IV toward the next player to catch his autograph. “I’m a big fan and was even at a game last season. It’s great to see the guys again!”
Farther down the hall is Jayshauwn Coates, 7, who seems to visit the hospital more often than not lately due to his severe asthma, probably 8-10 times a year, his Mom said. The Grand Rapids kiddo was happy to hear he’d be going home soon as he knows his friends will all be jealous of the autographs he scored.
Lisa Smith of Fountain, Michigan, sought autographs on behalf of her 10-year-old son, Max, who remains hospitalized after a Sunday bike accident.
“He’s a big Red Wings fan,” she said, adding that she plans to hang the autographed MI Wings poster by Max’s bed.
One of the more well-known Wings, Abdelkader, spent a few minutes reflecting on his visit.
“We got to go see a lot of patients and kids today and had a lot of fun,” he said. “Seeing the excitement on the kids’ faces, and brightening their day was a pretty neat opportunity.”
The meet and greet was a part of the seventh annual MI Wings Community Tour, with groups of players making stops at a military base, U.S. Coast Guard Station and two hospitals across the state of Michigan. The Wings start training camp this week in Traverse City and hockey season is right around the corner.
“I hope we didn’t get too rusty over the summer!” Abdelkader joked.