MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings center John Sullivan and his wife, Ariel, on Tuesday hosted a Halloween Huddle party at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital to bring smiles to children facing difficult medical conditions.
Sullivan was joined by teammates Phil Loadholt, Charlie Johnson, Corey Wootton, Isame Faciane, Mike Harris, Zac Kerin and Austin Wentworth in bringing smiles to others.
The players visited rooms of patients in the bone marrow transplant unit, the intensive care unit and patients undergoing kidney dialysis as well as other children who were able to come to the lobby for photos, autographs and the opportunity to meet Viktor, who wore a festive jack-o-lantern costume.
Sullivan's connection to the hospital began as a rookie when he accompanied former Vikings All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson on visits. Sullivan has been proud to continue that connection and appreciative of the opportunity to lead the charge since 2012.
"It's just an incredible event that's put on mainly through the efforts of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital and Minnesota Medical Foundation, and then the Vikings and players come here and donate their time," Sullivan said. "It's very rewarding for us and makes a huge difference, we feel, for the patients, their families and the hospital staff, everybody that's part of the equation. We just want to be here and provide a distraction and some happiness for these families and these kids."
On the bone marrow transplant floor, a baby's cries could be heard from the hallway, but when Sullivan and Loadholt walked in, Teodora, stopped crying, and her smile lit up the room. Teodora, or "Baby Teya" as her parents Aleks and Milana call her, turned 5 months old Tuesday. She was two weeks removed from a transplant to help epidermolysis bullosa (EB), a condition that was causing her skin to fall off.
"There's really nothing else like that and it's hard to put into words how rewarding it is to have the opportunity to influence someone's life in a positive way and to go out and actually do it," Sullivan said. "We feel we were very fortunate to be able to do that."
Baby Teya's parents are from Chicago, but found through an internet search that treatment pioneered by Dr. Jakub Tolar at the hospital could help the condition and potentially change Teya's life. They are likely to stay in the hospital for about six months and said the visit from Vikings players, as well as a recent visit by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, helped them and their daughter.
"It's unbelievable," Aleks said. "She doesn't even know them and they brought smiles to her face. Everybody was excited to have them stop by."
Milana added: "She got so quiet. She loves visitors. It's a nice hospital, but it's not fun being in this room 24-7. She was crying when they came in and now she's just jumping and smiling."
This week is National Epidermolysis Bullosa Awareness Week, and the family gave Sullivan and Loadholt rubber band bracelets that the players gladly stretched over their big hands and wrists and two more to pass along to Johnson and Harris.
The Halloween Huddle is part of a series of events that Sullivan hosts that also include Thanksgiving and Holiday meals he hosts annually for patients and their families.