John Sullivan and his wife, Ariel, sponsored the holiday party for patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital on Tuesday.
MINNEAPOLIS –For a while Tuesday afternoon, it was easy to forget that you were inside a hospital … and that was the goal of Vikings center John Sullivan and his wife, Ariel, who sponsored the holiday party for patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
Viktor the Viking interacted with guests and snapped photos with patients, a small choir sang Christmas carols, there was plenty of punch and sugar cookies to go around, and Santa Claus even made an appearance. Patients and their families mingled in the lobby and enjoyed a dose of holiday — and Vikings — cheer.
"People here at the hospital do a great job of getting [those who are able] out and home for the holidays, so the people that are here over the holidays are in a serious enough condition that they can't leave the hospital," said tight end Kyle Rudolph, who made his third hospital visit of the year. "For us to come here and spread some holiday cheer, be with the kids and families and take their minds off what's going on for a little while, we really just want to spread the spirit of Christmas and the holidays."
Joining Sullivan and Rudolph on the visit were teammates Carter Bykowski, Nick Easton, Isame Faciane, Danielle Hunter, Kevin McDermott and Adam Thielen. In addition, Vikings alumni Walker Lee Ashley, Matt Blair, Wes Hamilton and Ryan Hoag joined the festivities. Patients received purple Minnesota Vikings license plates to get autographed, and they also took photos with former and current players.
Former wide receiver Hoag now works as a K-8th grade teacher as well as with a non-profit organization that supports children with disabilities, so getting involved in youth-focused events comes naturally to him.
"Kids always are going to have a tug on my heart strings, and you just see the joy that football players can bring to kids – whether they're in the hospital or not," Hoag said. "It's fun to see a kid's face light up when you walk in the room, and any joy we can bring, especially during the holiday season, is special."
A few players also made bed-side visits to some unable to attend the party. From 4-month-old Frederick to 24-year-old Spencer, each patient made an impact on his or her visitors.
Seven-year-old Brookie may be ill, but she perked right up as soon as Thielen, Sullivan and Bykowski entered the room, giggling and offering up a bright pink football for autographs. The teammates only held her attention until the photographer came in, though. Brookie immediately turned her focus to the cameras, hamming it up with little poses and grinning from ear to ear the entire time.
Amanda Coplan, Brookie's mom, said Brookie has already been at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital a total of 120-130 days this year, and events like Tuesday's make some of those days so much easier.
"As you can see, it definitely put a smile on her face just seeing them all walk in the room," Coplan said. "It just gets us away from the hospital bustle, and it's different people besides just the hospital staff coming in and saying 'Hi.' "
The players visited with Spencer, one of the oldest patients, and he joked easily about being near the same age as the athletes.
"I'm getting old," said 30-year-old Sullivan, laughing.
"It happens," Spencer said, returning a smile.
As a Vikings fan, Spencer especially appreciated the visit and said he is hopeful for a Minnesota win Sunday night against the Giants.
"It was really nice to have a break from the monotony of being in the hospital," Spencer expressed. "It was nice to meet these guys who are gracious enough to spend time with people who are struggling with some stuff."
One patient, Alex, bonded with Sullivan over their shared passion for hunting. The two immediately hit it off, swapping insight and comparing stories of mule deer and pheasants.
"Sometimes you connect with someone that has a mutual interest, like Alex, and those are incredibly important," Sullivan said later. "But at the same time, we visited Brookie earlier, and we had just as much fun talking to her."
The Sullivans have always enjoyed their time spent visiting the hospital, but being new parents to a 4-month-old son (who joined them Tuesday) has made the event that much more special for John and Ariel.
"It does hit a little bit closer to home, having kids of your own," Sullivan said. "It puts this entire experience in perspective, and you can really empathize with the parents. You understand what the love for your own child is like, so for them to have to be going through that at any time of year would be difficult, but especially around the holidays, when you associate with being around home and family and happy times – so we're just trying to brighten their day a little bit. We want to give them back a little bit of the happiness that they're missing."
Sullivan and the other Vikings certainly accomplished that goal during their time Tuesday.
At the end of the afternoon, Rudolph extended the festivities longer than usual and invited all the patients to the auditorium of the Wilf Family Center for a movie and pizza. And what was showing on the big screen?
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, of course.
Xavier Rhodes Leads Second-Annual Toy Drive
The patients at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital had another Vikings visitor earlier in the day, as well. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes returned to the hospital for his second-annual toy drive after spending $2,500 Monday evening shopping for gifts that will be wrapped and delivered to patients this week.
Rhodes also signed autographs for patients, and guests had the opportunity to purchase gifts toward the toy drive for a chance to win tickets to Sunday night's game. Alex, who met with Sullivan and Rudolph later in the afternoon, bought three toy tractors and donated them to the drive.
Hospital guests also discovered a secret some Vikings fans may not know about Rhodes: he can sing. During the toy drop-off, Rhodes borrowed a piece of sheet music, stood in the back row of a youth choir, and helped finish off a verse of *Feliz Navidad *before starting over and singing the entire song through a second time.