The Oregon Ducks football team had quite an adventure in Southern California prior to its 45-38 victory over Wisconsin in Monday’s Rose Bowl.
Offensive lineman Matt Asper saved a choking victim at Lawry’s Prime Rib during the annual Beef Bowl, running back LaMichael James was terrified by Space Mountain at Disneyland and several players were trapped in a hotel elevator for two hours in Century City.
However, between those incidents and the team’s historic victory on Monday, the Ducks also made a dream come true for a Children’s Hospital Los Angeles patient, Donnovan Hill, 13, of Long Beach. Hill, whose favorite football team is Oregon, had been paralyzed during a Pop Warner championship football game on Nov. 7.
“This is awesome; I have butterflies,” his mother, Crystal Dixon, said during Oregon’s visit on Saturday. “He’s speechless. He’s never this quiet.”
In what is becoming a tradition at the hospital, both teams visited with patients in the rehabilitation unit, taking pictures and socializing with patients and their families. Oregon, though, had a special gift for Hill: a Ducks jersey autographed by the entire team.
Running back Kenjon Barner, originally of Riverside, also gave Hill one of his wristbands, which said, “God is big enough.” Barner and running back De’Anthony Thomas, a Crenshaw High School graduate, spent the majority of the event at Hill’s side.
Sal Hernandez, Hill’s Pop Warner coach, said Hill had been awaiting the Ducks’ visit all week, and said he is very appreciative of them making the young patient’s New Year’s Eve memorable.
“Seeing the smile on Donnovan’s face, it’s priceless,” Hernandez said.
Free safety John Boyett said those very reactions are why such visits are important to the football team. Some players, though, were reluctant to get back on an elevator to get to the rehab unit on the sixth floor.
“It’s great to be able to come here and give back and put a smile on these kids’ faces,” Boyett said.
On Friday, the Wisconsin Badgers visited with patients in several areas of the hospital, as well as a handful in the rehab unit.
“I think it’s a blessing,” quarterback Russell Wilson said of visiting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
He said he frequently visits the children’s hospital in Madison, Wisc., and the occasions always offer a reminder of how blessed the football players are to be able to compete at the level they do.
“That’s the part that is kind of touching to me,” Wilson said.
Pattie Soltero, the operations manager for the hospital’s rehabilitation unit, said that hosting visitors, whether it be Santa Claus or football players, is always of benefit to the patients.
“The kids love the visitors,” Soltero said. “It’s all exciting.”
She said patients in the rehabilitation unit must endure three hours of physical therapy per day, excluding Sundays. Such extensive rehabilitation can take its toll, making the visits even more meaningful, Soltero said.
“They’re athletes in their own right,” she said, adding that she is pleased that the teams visited. “They’ve got so many things going on this weekend. I am grateful they’re willing to take time out their schedule to visit with us and the kids.”
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