Patients always appreciate “sports guys” stopping by, notes pediatric oncology nurse Mitch Wilson. “A lot of our kids are big sports fans,” he adds. “When the Oriole Bird comes by, you would think the king was here and they’d rolled out the red carpet.”
Last Wednesday, a bird of the same feather but a different stripe visited the pediatric oncology clinic at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and the inpatient unit at Hopkins Children’s. It was not the Baltimore team’s mascot, but Baltimore Orioles catcher Craig Tatum, who came by with his wife, Danielle, to spread a little cheer.
“My wife and I used to visit the hospital when I was coming up through the minor leagues in Dayton, Ohio,” said Tatum. “We really loved it, talking with the kids. They inspired us. So when I came to Baltimore, we found Johns Hopkins and the Orioles set up this visit.”
With outpatient clinic manager Jane Halliday, the couple toured the clinic, chatting with patients, families, faculty and staff. Along the way they met Marylander Kevin Dwyer, 16, a high-school junior, doing homework in a treatment room. The ballplayer and teen launched into an easy conversation about sports and school. “Wish I could help you,” said Tatum, a graduate of Mississippi State, glancing at Dwyer’s thick text-book. “That’s hard stuff. Math was never my strong suit.”
But genial conversation clearly is for the soft-spoken Mississippian. When patient Anbria Bates, 19, thanked him for stopping by he thanked her in return. “You’d be surprised how many people look up to you as their hero,” he said. “For me, this is a privilege.”
In a hallway he met pediatric oncology fellow Allan Sisson, who declared himself a baseball man. Tatum knew for which team he rooted. The name was on Sisson’s Hopkins ID lanyard: Boston Red Sox. But the Oriole’s a gentleman.“Hey that’s OK, that’s OK,” he said. “Did you catch the game last night?”
In that game the Orioles trounced the Boston team. “I cried myself to sleep,” said the doctor, laughing.
Next, Tatum listened carefully as an animated 5-year-old, Collin Manheim of Elkton, Md., described his first day in kindergarten that week. “He’s in this clinic, but what’s going on in school is what’s most important to him,” said Danielle Tatum, a former teacher.
On the oncology inpatient unit at Hopkins Children’s, nurses Lauren Brookes and Kristin Meerdink had helped get out the word that the Oriole was stopping by and a number of youngsters had requested visits. One little boy wanted to talk about football with Tatum. So they did, as family cameras flashed. “Oh, this is so good for him,” said his mother
The small Orioles entourage accompanying the couple left gifts of team caps and #1 foam fingers. “We had a great time,” said Tatum, who hopes other “birds” can make a similar trek this year. “It just amazes me how happy and joyful these kids are about life. They’re battling a terrible disease but out of courage, not fear. One little guy had been battling cancer for a long time, but he wanted to know about me and my life, which is really touching.”