May 6, 2014
NEW ORLEANS - On Thursday, April 17, current and former Tulane football student-athletes spent the afternoon with players from the New Orleans Saints visiting children in the hematology and oncology unit at Tulane Hospital for Children.
Former Green Wave kicker Stephen Purcell and his younger brother Brandon Purcell - who is currently on the Green Wave roster - visited children and teenagers who have been stricken with a variety of life-threatening illnesses. Joining the Purcell's on the visit was Green Wave football student-athlete Kenny Welcome and former Tulane standouts and NFL-hopefuls Cairo Santos and Chris Davenport. New Orleans Saints representatives included running back Khiry Robinson, tight end Josh Hill and former Green Wave and current Saints quarterback Ryan Griffin. The seven brightened the days of many children too sick to either leave the hospital or even their rooms.
The group played games and passed out Tulane and Saints memorabilia to the patients throughout the day. They also signed autographs and posed for pictures with many of the patients and their families.
Stephen Purcell, who was a member of the Tulane football team from 2010-12, has been volunteering his time at the hospital since he first visited patients during preseason football camp with his teammates as a student-athlete in 2011. Since graduating from Tulane with his undergraduate degree in 2012, he completed Master's degree this past year. The elder Purcell wrote about how he became captivated into volunteering his time and how beneficial it is for both patients and current and former student-athletes to spend time together.
"After arriving at preseason football camp in August 2011, I headed to Tulane Hospital for Children at the Tulane Medical Center with my teammates. I still picture the smiles we brought to the children as we signed autographs or just discussed their daily activities. I was instantly exposed to the health benefits of reaching out to one's community and providing a source of support for them during a critical time in their health. It was at that moment that I realized that, simply by being Division I athletes, we were role models for the youths in New Orleans. Our mere presence lit up their faces and, for a moment, I could tell they temporarily forgot they were patients bound to the hospital while fighting illnesses.
During the visit, I met the chief of hematology and oncology, Dr. Tammuella Singleton, and after witnessing the impact I made on her patients, I continued to come back weekly. I did not want to have just one interaction with the children, but instead, wanted to form relationships with each child. If I was able to bring any kind of happiness into their lives, even transiently, then I wanted to be around as much as possible to do just that. Additionally, I wanted to learn the clinical side of these children's histories.
As I participated in rounds while shadowing Dr. Singleton, I had the opportunity to be in the patients' rooms to learn about what was wrong and what steps and tests were being taken to find the best treatment. The relationships I formed with the patients and physicians inspired me to visit the hospital weekly for the past three years, and these indelible experiences have solidified my choice to apply to medical school this year (I have already been accepted to schools, including Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.).
After graduating from Tulane in 2012 and completing my Master's degree in 2013, I have continued to volunteer and shadow physicians at the Tulane Hospital for Children while working as a research assistant in the BANGL genetics lab downtown. Recently, I was especially inspired to go above and beyond by our patients at the hospital. I noticed several sickle cell and leukemia patients playing NFL videogames and drawing pictures of New Orleans Saints helmets.
Immediately, I told my brother Brandon about this and together we thought of a way to make these patients' wishes come true. Thus, we combined our passion for serving others with our love for football and organized a joint Saints/Green Wave visit to the children in the hematology/oncology department.
During our visit, we signed autographs, posed for photos and provided Tulane and Saints memorabilia for the children to wear as they cheer on their two favorite local teams. We spent time with various children and teenagers on the chemotherapy treatment floor, and we also visited the rooms of those patients too sick to leave their beds. Seeing the excitement in the eyes of the patients and their families was truly rewarding. Whether we were playing catch with the Tulane footballs we distributed or giving pompoms to the little girls who always dreamed of becoming cheerleaders, we got to know these kids on a deeper level and were able to form memorable personal connections.
For the physicians, Dr. Singleton and Dr. Rishi Chavan, as well as the nursing staff, this was our way of saying thank you for what they've been doing. For the children, we hope that our presence helped to brighten their day because seeing their smiles truly brightened ours. It is our hope that other NCAA teams and professional athletes will acknowledge their ability to be role models and take advantage of that opportunity to serve their communities and bring the same joy and support to those in need."
The impact made - for both parties involved - can go a long way.
"My pre-med student, Stephen Purcell, rounds with me every week and knows firsthand the daily suffering faced by the children we treat here at Tulane Hospital for Children," Dr. Singleton said. "He reached out to his football colleagues to do something special for our kids. I had no idea how special it would be."
"The atmosphere was electric and the patients were beyond thrilled! There was one little 4-year old chronically ill patient that did a dance. He could hardly contain himself, and I had to ask the players to go to his room right away. The smiles and all the happiness generated by the players' visit were absolutely priceless. This visit meant the world to our little heroes that suffer through so much every day. I can't say thank you enough. Stephen and each of the players were amazing," Singleton added.
"It was an extremely powerful visit," said Griffin, who was a four-year starter for the Green Wave and is entering his second season with the Saints. "The strength and toughness of the kids we visited was inspirational. I look up to those kids now."
"When Steve told me about his first experience visiting the children a few years ago, I knew I wanted to give back to the community of New Orleans one day," said Brandon Purcell. "As Division I athletes and NFL players, we have a responsibility to be role models for the youth of our city and this was the perfect opportunity to be a support outlet for the kids and make them smile during this tough time in their lives."
The mission of the Department of Pediatrics at Tulane Hospital for Children is to advance knowledge in the field of Pediatrics through innovative medical education to students, residents and fellows; cutting edge basic and applied health research; and quality clinical services in general and specialty pediatrics.
The Section of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at Tulane Hospital for Children is a comprehensive program that addresses both the medical and psychosocial needs of children with cancer and hematologic disorders such as sickle cell disease. The staff includes pediatric hematologists/oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, neuroradiologists, neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, orthopedists, urologists, otolaryngologists, and ophthalmologists. Pediatric social workers help families cope with diagnosis and treatment, and support groups help educate families.
The Tulane pediatric oncology program belongs to the Children's Oncology Group (COG) and they use treatment protocols designed by the physician experts in the group. This is done in order to provide the most up-to-date treatment for children with cancer and to better the treatment in the future.