Buffalo Bills bring “ho-ho-ho” to hospital for kids & families

Bryan Johnson was one of several Bills rookies who met with young patients. (Photo by Hailey Rose Gattuso)

Bryan Johnson was one of several Bills rookies who met with young patients. (Photo by Hailey Rose Gattuso)

By Hailey Rose Gattuso   

With Christmas right around the corner, most kids are getting caught up in the magic brought with the season: writing Christmas wish lists, baking cookies, visiting Santa and making gingerbread houses.

Unfortunately, not all kids have the privilege of enjoying the season’s simple pleasures because they are spending the majority of their time in the hospital.

The Buffalo Bills Toyota Rookie Club did not forget about these little ones. Yesterday the Bills Rookie Class visited the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.

It was quite a change in atmosphere after being at the “Play 60” event exactly a week from today. Players went from encouraging kids to play at least 60 minutes a day, to working with some kids who didn’t even have the option of standing up and running around.

“It really just makes you appreciate things,” said linebacker Preston Brown. “It’s really good to give back to the kids, especially those who are in the hospital. To just see a smile on their face really just brightens up my day as well.”

Kids of all ages were thrilled to attend the pizza party where they were able to participate in making Christmas crafts with fourteen Bills rookies and practice squad members. They were gathered around a large table decorating stockings, making Christmas cards, taking pictures and getting autographs.

The players also visited the rooms of children to deliver gifts from the Bills.

Cornerback Ross Cockrell shared his goal for the evening.

“I really just hope to distract them a little bit,” he said. “It’s Christmas, you know? It’s a time to be with family and be with friends, and that’s what I want to do. I want to give them hope. I want to give them laughter and joy.”

The kids were not only distracted; they were totally engaged. From all the Christmas cheer, one would’ve never known it was a hospital room filled with kids who had, or have, chronic illnesses.

Defensive End Bryan Johnson came with the understanding that a lot of these children were Bills’ fans and he had the hope of becoming a role model for some of them.

“It’s always good to come in and help out,” he said, “(and) show them that we are people too.”

The players found that the inspiration worked both ways, and that there was a lot to learn from the kids too.

“Strength. Will power,” Cockrell said. “You know, these kids are not your normal kids. They go through so much more and they persevere through so much more. It makes them strong and it helps me with that.”

Brown was also inspired by all of the strength in the room.

“It really is great to see how strong they are, and how much they fight (to stay healthy) everyday is great,” he said. “I learn a lot from these kids trying to stay healthy and stay strong.”

The children and the players were not the only ones thoroughly enjoying themselves. Standing all around the room, were parents watching with great pleasure, as their kids were able to have a fun Christmas experience, despite being in a hospital just days before the holiday.

As a parent, it must be frustrating to know the things your child is missing out on, even if the child him or herself isn’t aware. Experiencing Christmas vicariously through the eyes of a child is one of the wonders of being a parent. This event helped give that experience back.

One parent who was very touched by the event was Jody Kotowski, whose daughter Francesca is a regular patient at the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.

“Francesca has been in the hospital since she was been a baby,” Kotowski said. “We have been here for surgeries and we’ve always associated the hospital with bad stuff happening. We come here, and good stuff happens to her so it gives her a good feeling to come to the hospital.”

Francesca is involved in an organization called Stone’s Buddies that helps to create more fun opportunities and an optimistic atmosphere for kids who have to spend a lot of time in the hospital.

“You know we go to Bills games, and the Bills organization – it’s amazing the things and the opportunities they’ve given her, that as a parent – especially parents of a sick kid, we can’t afford it,” Kotowski said. “You know most of the time we are in the hospital, we have to pay for parking, and we have to pay for meals. We can’t afford to give them this kind of experience.”

She added, “The Bills have always stood up and done great things for our kids and it’s phenomenal to be here and see her having a good time inside these walls — it’s amazing. As a parent, it makes me thrilled, overjoyed. And I think all of the parents feel the same way.”

Rachel Joachimi assisted with the reporting of this story.

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