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John Sullivan, Vikings encourage patients at Halloween Huddle

John Sullivan and Vikings teammates brought smiles to patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children???s Hospital on Tuesday as part of an annual Halloween Huddle.

MINNEAPOLIS — Room by room, John Sullivan and Vikings teammates brought smiles to patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital on Tuesday as part of an annual Halloween Huddle.

The tradition that the Vikings center has been in charge of hosting since 2012 took on new significance for Sullivan as newborn son, Harrison, joined the first-time father and his wife, Ariel, in brightening days of young people who are bravely facing medical challenges.

Sullivan said becoming a parent further enabled him to relate to families as he walked the hospital's halls for the first time since his son was born in August.

"It's more of an emotional response at this point," Sullivan said. "Not that it wasn't emotional before because you could always empathize, but when you really understand the kind of love you have for a child as a parent, it's hard to put into words."

Sullivan and Kyle Rudolph visited the bone marrow transplant unit and surprised the family of a young patient named Anton with tickets to the upcoming Vikings-Rams game. Anton received treatment for more than 200 days for Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB) but was discharged Tuesday and moved to the Ronald McDonald House. A Facebook page, Help Anton, chronicles his treatment. EB is a rare condition that causes skin to fall off, and Oct. 25-31 is EB Awareness Week.

The hospital is a pioneer in developing treatment for EB.

"This is an incredible children's hospital," Sullivan said. "The patients that are here get first-rate care and in a lot of circumstances, they get care that they can't get anywhere else in the world. You don't want to say that any family or patient is lucky to be in the hospital, but they're very lucky to have the staff of doctors and nurses and volunteers at Masonic."

Austin Shepherd, Brock Vereen and Adam Thielen visited other patients, including Nick Strodtman, a 23-year-old from Coon Rapids, who his undergoing treatment for synovial sarcoma. Strodtman was diagnosed with the rare muscle tissue cancer in February. While he's undergone treatment, he's thought of the younger patients.

"A lot of kids here are going through some really tough stuff so I think it's cool and important that they come out here," Strodtman said. "I'm here and I see what they're going through, and I wish there's something I could do (for the younger patients)."

Strodtman enjoyed meeting the players that are his age (Shepherd and Vereen are 23; Fruechte is 24) and talking about football with them.

The event included a carnival-type atmosphere with face painting, photo sessions and autographs in the lobby. Vikings mascot Viktor wore a Woody from Toy Story costume. 

Mike Harris, Anthony Harris, Nick Easton, Zac Kerin and David Yankey also attended the event and encouraged patients.

Sullivan, who was first connected to the hospital by former Vikings great Steve Hutchinson, said he appreciates the opportunity to connect younger players with the patients.

"Those are the guys that will be here the longest of this group," Sullivan said. "It was the same way for me when I was a young player. I learned from the guys ahead of me. You want to set a good example for them and show them that you have to be thankful for what you have. We wouldn't have jobs and we would have no platform without our fans, and a lot of the people here are fans. It's an important part of life to be philanthropic and give back. It's an incredibly rewarding experience."

Sullivan's work will continue at the hospital with holiday events scheduled in November and December.

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