Alabama players take time to visit children's hospital

Anniston StarOctober 31, 2013 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Mitzi Hasty says her daughter, Morgan Hasty, usually "feels terrible" and "really sick the next morning" after a night of chemotherapy treatment.

But when Mitzi told Morgan that some Alabama football players were visiting Children's Hospital on Tuesday of the Tennessee week, Morgan was a "different child this morning" and "smiling and happy" to see stars from her favorite college football team.

"It's amazing and I told the guys that they don't know how much it means to these kids," Mitzi said. "It's just a big deal for somebody from the University of Alabama to come and take time out and give their time to these kids who don't have too much to smile about.

"This is pretty incredible that they can come in and put smiles on these kids faces when normally we'd be in the hospital bed just watching TV. So it's a big deal."

Crimson Tide right tackle Austin Shepherd and kicker Cade Foster, along with three Crimsonettes from the Million Dollar Band, made the trip from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham to spend a couple hours with sick kids at Children's Hospital for the Austin Shepherd Foundation.

Morgan, 10, was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the muscles, in 2010. She is one of nearly 40 children who walked into the activity room of Children's and left smiling ear to ear.

Children from the burn unit, oncology, organ transplant and cardiac all trickled in for a few minutes with the athletes.

While violent on the field, players were gentle and warm with the small children. They signed autographs, posed for pictures, gave hugs and did arts and crafts with the children.

"I've been Roll Tide since I was little," one child said.

"I go for Auburn, but I don't care today," another said, smiling.

"If I was one of these kids, I'd want someone to take time out of there day and visit me," Shepherd said. "So I'm doing this to help the kids and give back to the community."

Shepherd partnered with Jenna King and coordinated with Honey Cook, child life coordinator at Children's, to start the Austin Shepherd Foundation in October 2012, in memory of King's brother, Jonathan "Jon" King, who died in 2001 after a battle with Ewing's Sarcoma.

In its one year of existence, the foundation has donated $15,500 to the Child Life Department at Children's of Alabama for the expansion of the Beads of Courage program.

Children get a new bead with each step in the journey and players "carry a bead" during games.

"It tells a story of their journey and for the kids to get beads from the players gives them a different type of excitement," Cook said. "They're always so proud of their beads and what they've accomplished, but receiving a bead from a player gives them so much joy and something to look forward to."

Cook said one of the goals of the foundation is to "keep life as normal as it can be."

King said she enjoys seeing the kids' spirits lift and that she wishes a program like this was around when her brother was alive.

"There's nothing like it in the world and it brings back a lot of memories for me," King said.

"I know that when my brother was in the hospital, if he would have had some of these players come visit him, it would have made his stay here so much easier."

King said one of the next steps for the foundation is having the entire Alabama football team as well as Auburn carry a bead during the Iron Bowl.

Along with other Tide players, Shepherd and King take monthly visits.

The foundation also hosts a family at every Alabama football game in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Shepherd said he never saw the foundation getting to the point it is at now.

"Not at all honestly," Shepherd said. "At first I was just wondering what could happen and now I can see what can happen. There's still a lot to be done. We're not even half way there and I'm excited to see where it takes us in the future."

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