When going through emotional, difficult or meaningful situations, human nature is to draw from personal experience.
Visiting the Omaha Children’s Hospital with the Mississippi State baseball team Thursday afternoon was a glimpse back to battles from years past for at least a few as they walked down halls greeting children, signing autographs, taking pictures and telling jokes.
The visit was particularly emotional for Luis Pollorena, a senior pitcher for MSU. Having survived a long fight with leukemia as a child, Pollorena’s empathy for those he talked to came from his personal experience.
“It’s tough,” Pollorena said. “It brings back so many memories. All the siblings in there with them.”
Halfway down the sixth floor of the hospital, the group of teammates Pollorena was walking with had split up into a few different places.
Venturing out on his own, Pollorena entered the room of a 12-year-old boy named Tyjuan.
Standing at the foot of Tyjuan’s hospital bed, with his grandmother and sister sitting beside him, Pollorena spoke quietly but confidently, asking Tyjuan about his favorite sport (football), the team he cheers for (the Washington Redskins) and his most beloved player (Robert Griffin III).
“Would you take the deal or go for the million?” Pollorena asked.
“Definitely the million,” Tyjuan said with a grin.
But he didn’t seem to mind missing out on the show while he talked to this College World Series Pitcher, though his admiration had nothing to with baseball.
Just over a year ago, he told Pollorena, Tyjuan was diagnosed with leukemia. At age 11, his world changed, bearing trials and emotions beyond what any child should have to endure.
But this pitcher standing in front of him, one of the privileged few still playing baseball in his home town of Omaha, offered hope. He had been through the same and could confidently tell him, it does get better.
Pollorena, still the only player in the room, pulled something out of his pocket and looked up at Tyjuan.
“We got you a ball from the World Series, and we all signed it for you. The whole team. We want you to have it and know that we are praying for you,” Pollorena said before handing Tyjuan the ball. “We’ll be thinking about you when we play. You can watch us on your TV, but you can change it back to Deal or No Deal if we’re boring.”
All the players understand what their presence means to the children, even if not all have been through it themselves.
For pitching coach Butch Thompson, trips like these are special because of the miracle he was granted and the memory of what could have been.
When his oldest daughter was only nine months old, Thompson and his wife took her to the children’s hospital in Birmingham when they knew something was wrong and couldn’t make her better.
“One doctor came in and did a bunch of tests on her,” Thompson recalled, “then he left and came back with six or seven more doctors. They told us her diagnosis was infantile spasms.”
The doctors also told the new parents there was no cure. Life expectancy was 12-14 years for their daughter.
Today, Hannah Thompson is 14 years old, perfectly healthy and wonderfully alive.
The event which brought her to the hospital at nine months old never occurred again. When the family left that day, Thompson remembers a doctor telling them they would be back.
They never were.
“Being here means so much,” Thompson said outside the front doors of the Omaha Children’s Hospital Thursday. “You ask yourself, ‘Why me? Why am I so blessed?’”
For myself, I felt lucky to be a part of this group touring the hospital, sharing smiles and visiting with children who spent their time in sterile white rooms rather than open green yards.
Just hours after I was born, I was flown from Starkville to Jackson, Miss., where I spent a week in NICU at Batson Children’s Hospital and ultimately had two surgeries.
Over the next few years, I twice spent time at the Dupont Children’s Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, totaling four more surgeries in my pair of visits.
My mom told me she wanted to make sure all my hospital visits were done before my memory was strong enough to retain the trips.
I’m lucky enough now to have no memories nor any problems.
But as we walked from room-to-room in Omaha, many of the children, like Pollorena, will not have the luxury of forgetting.
Which is why the visits from him, his teammates and his coaches means so much to those they talk to.
Now, their memories from the hospital will include autographed baseballs from College World Series teams, pictures with hitters, fielders and coaches, and for Tyjuan and many like him, offerings of hope and understanding.
“You’re gonna touch some hearts,” the shuttle driver told us on the way to the hospital.
He was right.