People with heart

Posted:  Monday, November 6, 2017 - 7:00am

While living in a time with so much controversy, trouble and disaster, it’s nice to hear a story about people doing something nice for a person they’ve never met and to whom they have no obligation. Here is such a story.

I have a 14-year-old son named Jason whose premature birth handed him a lifelong challenge with cerebral palsy. We thank God that his condition has not left him totally incapacitated, but he cannot walk without the assistance of a walker and the amount of time he can spend on his feet is limited due to pain in his feet, knees or legs. At the age of 9, it was becoming evident that the top of his left femur was growing improperly. The ball at the top of the femur, which should be sunk into the hip socket, was moving out of its proper place and upward causing the hip socket to slowly open. As this problem progressed, it was not only causing problems with his ability to stand and walk without pain, but was also stunting the growth of his left leg.

Jason’s orthopedic surgeon in Boston was keeping a close eye on the situation with hopes that the progression of the hip coming out of joint would stop. Unfortunately, in the spring of 2017, he broke the news that we should consider surgery to repair Jason’s hip before he faced dislocation, greater stunting of the leg’s growth and a life of arthritic pain. The doctor explained that the surgery would consist of cutting the top of the femur off at an angle, pinning it back in place at the proper angle and closing the top of the hip socket over the ball again. This would entail a minimum of 12 weeks with no weight bearing on the left leg as the bones inside mended, along with extensive physical therapy to get him back on his feet. My wife, Margaret, and I discussed all of this and determined to move forward with the operation, waiting until the fall to allow him to enjoy the summer.

In spite of the many struggles which come from having CP, Jason is a boy with spirit. His bright demeanor and smile testify that he’s living a happy life. Beyond his love to laugh and make jokes, his love for football shines through. He loves to play football on his Xbox 360 and has a substantial football card collection. His favorite team, of course, is the New England Patriots. He never misses a game on TV and knows about all the players. When he plays on his gaming console, he is either a wide receiver #89 or a running back #40. Most of his conversation is about football and how he wants a career playing for the Patriots. I once asked Jason if he thought he may be living this sport a bit too much. He said, “Dad, I can't actually play the game due to my disability; it's because I'm so limited that I have this as a distracting fantasy.” How do you argue with that?!

Understanding that many professional athletes will visit kids in the hospital, I did all I could to find out what it would take for Jason to meet some of the Patriots’ players. It turned out that a friend of our family knows a personal friend of the team’s vice president of media relations. Word came back that, during the time frame Jason would be in the hospital, all of the Pats players would basically be in lock down and not allowed out of the coach’s sight. This was disappointing news for sure. Knowing what Jason had in store, we still wanted to do something special for him that included the Patriots.

Thanks to the six o’clock news, we discovered the Patriots offered free admission to the fans during certain days of training camp. So plans were made, the trip was taken, and we showed up early on Aug. 7 to get some good seats so Jason could see some of his favorite players in person. To our chagrin, when we showed up at the gate, there were already about 250 people in line. To our joy, however, when the people at the gate saw a young boy roll up in a wheelchair, we were promptly ushered to another gate with a much shorter line. We were instructed to take a specific route to the stands, and as we approached them, we were personally guided to a special spot in the front row alongside the field. The man who guided us to our seats told me that he could come get us as they neared the end of the training session and bring us to a place where some of the players might greet the fans. He was clear that there would be no guarantee, but it was likely Jason could meet some players. I took him up on the offer and it really paid off for Jason! He was able to meet Patriots’ running back Rex Burkhead; quarterback Jacoby Brissett (since traded to the Indianapolis Colts); wide receiver Chris Hogan and last, but by no means least, wide receiver and punt returner Julian Edelman! It was a great day for Jason (well, OK, for all of us) and we spoke about it for weeks to come.

As the date of the surgery approached, we wanted to do something special for Jason the day before his operation so his mind would have some happy thoughts which could perhaps drown out the anxiety he was having about the surgery. While at training camp a few weeks before, we discovered there was a place named “The Hall,” which is a Patriots museum located above the pro shop at Gillette Stadium, but we couldn’t visit it due to a very long line to get in and a longer drive to get home. We decided to travel down to Foxboro the Sunday before the surgery, spend the night at the Hilton located next to the stadium, go to the pro-shop and The Hall when they opened on Monday morning, and then move on to prepare for the surgery on Tuesday.

Still hoping for a little something more, I wrote a letter to the Patriots telling them about Jason, his love for their team and the surgery he had coming up. I sent it on to my friend with the inside contact who then forwarded it and we got a reply via email! In the reply we were told about the organization’s appreciation for Jason’s love of the team and they promised four free passes to The Hall with the possibility of getting some pictures on the field if time permitted. It was exciting just to know they were aware we were coming.

We carried out our plans and as we ate breakfast on Monday morning, I got a text from one of the people in the public relations department requesting we meet her at the gate to the field. We let her know when we were there and she brought us in to check out the sidelines of the field for some pictures. She took our camera and shot many family photos of us on the edge of the ball field. She then took us on a short tour inside the stadium, into the wide hallway where the players entered the field to play, and where the players would reenter the stadium to head for the locker room at half time. She showed us the visiting players’ locker room and then onto to the press room. I asked if Jason could stand at the podium; she said yes and I could feel the excitement from him as we took some cool pictures of him standing behind the microphones. When I posted them on Facebook, the caption read, “Jason explains to the press how Brady will soon have his sixth Super Bowl ring.” She told Jason that Coach Belichick would be standing in that exact spot in about four hours. Jason asked her if she ever got to speak to Tom Brady and she said she would be seeing him later that day. He asked her to say hi for him and she told him she would.

Big surprises ahead

This wrapped up our tour and as we went outside, she asked if we would like to go to the edge of the field for some more pictures. I told her, “Yes, we’ll be happy with anything,” and we rolled Jason over for some more shots. While we were there, I noticed she was talking on her phone. I think we were being sized up during the tour because she came to me and asked if we would like to go back for an extended tour of the inside. I replied with another, “Yes, anything.” As she brought us back in, she leaned over to me and said, “There’s someone who wants to meet your son.” OK, now I’m getting excited.

She brought us into the offices, through the PR department and into the executive offices. As she brought us through the final door she said, “And this is Robert Kraft’s office.” For those who may not know it, Robert Kraft is the owner of the New England Patriots. Now things got real! I pushed Jason’s wheelchair through the door and as soon as he was in the room, Mr. Kraft walked over and addressed Jason by name. He had a personal discussion with him while the rest of the family stood to the sides of the room. Mr. Kraft told Jason that he appreciated the state of Maine and, with a second handshake, thanked him for being a Pats fan. He gave Jason a Patriots fidget spinner to keep and then, reaching into his pocket, produced his personal Super Bowl 51 ring. Still addressing Jason he said, “Wanna try on the ring?” A prompt “oooo” came out of Jason as he extended his hand to accept the offer. I thought he might swallow both of his ears as he was smiling so hard. Mr. Kraft suggested we might want a photo of him wearing it; I quickly concurred. After our photo-op, he asked an assistant to get the family some hats from his personal collection. Mr. Kraft, shaking hands with all of us, thanked us for coming. When I had a hold of Mr. Kraft’s hand, I thanked him for meeting with Jason. He said, “No problem.” I wouldn’t let go of his hand. I said to him again with more emotion in my eyes and voice, “You don’t understand ... thank you for meeting with my son.” He understood the level of gratitude and gave a heartfelt, “You’re welcome.”

On our way out, our guide explained to Jason that the hats he received are not available in any store and Mr. Kraft only gives them to VIPs. Once outside, she handed Jason the free passes to The Hall and we headed in that direction. Not quite sure how Jason was feeling about the experience, I said, “Sorry you didn’t get to meet any of the players, dude.” He quickly replied with his arms in the air, “Are you kidding? We just met Robert Kraft! We started at the top, man. That means as we work down, we’ll meet Belichick, Brady and Gronk later!” Like I said before, he’s got a pretty good attitude.

Mr. Kraft did not have to do what he did, but out of compassion for another human being, he took some time out of his day to be a blessing to Jason. In my thank you note I told him, “I will be bragging about your compassionate act for my son’s benefit for the rest of my life.” It’s so good to know there are people out there who think past themselves and are willing to give something of themselves to a young man who has experienced so much disappointment in his life. Robert Kraft is indeed one of these people and I will say the same for the entire Patriots organization.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention another compassionate person who played a role in this big day for Jason. I’m not at liberty to say the name, but one of the people I do electrical work for was inquiring about my family and when I shared our plans to go to Gillette before the surgery, she sent a card with a check in it that covered the entire trip along with enough to purchase a lot of Patriots memorabilia for Jason. We were floored!

Anticipating that you will want to know, I’m happy to announce that our hopes of Jason having enough good thoughts to outweigh the fears of the next day’s surgery worked. He slept fairly well on Monday night and every time he started to express his fears about the surgery, Margaret or I would say, “What? You met Robert Kraft and you’re thinking about some lame surgery?” He would just smile as his concerns were refocused toward his excitement of this meeting! Also, as he met nurses, anesthesiologists, assistants and the surgeon, I would say, “Tell ‘em who you met yesterday.” Then when he told them, I would say, “Tell ‘em what you got to try on.” It really took the edge off for him as he told his story about meeting Robert Kraft and trying on his personal Super Bowl ring.

To wrap up my story, the surgery went well and Jason is doing nicely as he approaches the anticipated time when he can take off the brace and begin putting weight on his left leg again. Please pray for him as he still has a long road of healing and therapy ahead of him. I hope reading this story has brought the same smile to your face as I have seen it repeatedly do so on the faces of those I’ve told it to. May it not only give you a little more hope for humanity, but also spur us all on to do something for someone who has no ability to repay us.