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Pat Lafontaine

NHL Legacy Classroom helps kids face fears, disease

By Hope Baptiste

 Let’s face it. Being a kid in the hospital is never fun. For kids like Dylan Price, 13, of Greensboro, N.C., who are in for weeks to months at a time receiving life-saving treatment for long-term illnesses, well, it just plain stinks.

To help these kids escape from their daily medical grind and keep them connected to family and friends through extended hospital stays, the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), the Carolina Hurricanes and Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine and his Companions in Courage charity teamed up to develop the state-of-the-art “NHL Legacy Classroom Lion’s Den” at the North Carolina Children’s Hospital.

Lion's Den Rooms

The Lion's Den Rooms were originally founded by the Companions in Courage Foundation and NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine.

The foundation has now opened 11 Lion's Den rooms throughout North America, including the one at N.C. Children’s Hospital and two others with the National Hockey League in Montreal, Canada, and Boston, Mass.

Plans for a second NHL Legacy Classroom in Pittsburgh, Pa., were unveiled during the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic to commemorate the outdoor game.

In partnership with Companions in Courage, supporting sponsor Frozen Flashback, a charitable organization commemorating the “greatest game never played” (the 1989 match-up between New Jersey’s St. Joseph Regional High School and Delbarton School ice hockey teams), also contributed to the NHL Legacy Classroom at N.C. Children’s Hospital.

Located on the fifth floor, this inaugural high-tech classroom/playroom is a legacy gift to the children of North Carolina that commemorates the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend, the league’s midseason spectacular and the first held in Raleigh, N.C. The $250,000 space was unveiled in a star-studded event on Jan. 28 with the Carolina Hurricanes’ All-Star goaltender and NHLPA member Cam Ward, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and LaFontaine joining NHL team mascots, patients and staff for the celebration.

“The NHL and Cisco Systems have partnered with us for another memorable All-Star legacy gift to children from all across North Carolina so that we can continue to make a tremendous difference in the lives of patients and their families,” LaFontaine said. “We are so proud to be working with the NHL and its partners to connect the patients at N.C. Children's Hospital to their schools, friends and heroes for years to come.”

The bright, colorful, interactive space features Cisco Systems’ WebEx online conferencing system, which enables young patients to connect to family, friends, schools and teachers anywhere in the world during a hospital stay. Patients can also connect to other NHL Legacy Classrooms through WebEx for a collaborative learning experience during school hours and for fun, interactive games and other activities after school hours.

“I am very proud to support this NHL Legacy Classroom, which is a wonderful addition to N.C. Children’s Hospital,” Ward said. “As players, we try our best to give back to the areas in which we live, and this continues the tradition of players making an impact in the communities that have hosted All-Star Weekend.”

The NHL All-Star and Carolina Hurricanes-themed NHL Legacy Classroom also features a large flat-screen TV and PCs, as well as a SMART Board and a SMART Table provided by SMART Technologies. The walls and countertops are fashioned from germ-resistant Corian by DuPont.

Dylan takes advantage of everything the room has to offer, but his favorite is the SMART Board. He used it to create his latest Doodle4Google masterpiece for the search engine giant’s contest that solicits “doodles” using their logo for the chance to have your banner appear on the official website. Dylan’s doodle was a tribute to every child’s fight against childhood cancers and his own battle against acute myeloid leukemia (ACM).

“It’s a great place to be able to go and just do normal things,” Dylan said. “Just getting out of your room and having a cool place to go that doesn’t look anything like a hospital is huge, and I can stay close to my brothers and my friends at home, keep up with my soccer teammates and Boy Scout troop, just stay connected.”

Dylan’s parents, Sandi ’87 and Newell, agreed. “Dylan was diagnosed on Jan. 1 of this year, and it was like someone had pushed the pause button on our entire family’s life,” they said. “These illnesses are devastating to both mind and body, and it’s important to keep kids’ spirits up, for them to make friends, interact socially, feel involved and keep up with school. This space is just fantastic for that, and when kids are happier, they do so much better.”

Dylan is hopefully in the home stretch of a year-long process, having begun the last of four intense inpatient chemotherapy inductions to treat his particular form of leukemia. If all goes well, he hopes to be cleared sometime in August so he can join his classmates as a freshman at Greensboro’s Page High School in the fall.

But for now, Dylan is making the best of a challenging situation. In addition to his SMART Board doodling and impromptu midnight dance parties with the nursing staff, he attends the Hospital School to keep pace, is learning the guitar through music therapy, writes in his journal, visits with friends and family on Facebook and Skype, texts his brothers when they’re apart and, along with his parents, chronicles his journey on his CaringBridge website.

“When you come here, it’s like a club you never want to join, but once you’re in, it’s literally life-changing,” Dylan said. The “Cancer Club” as it is referred to by staff, patients and their families on 5 Children’s, is tight-knit, loyal, determined, committed and just a little crazy. “We’re all in this together, and we know what each other is going through. We experience each other at our worst, and we understand.”

Dylan’s prognosis is very good and he is responding exceptionally well to his treatment. And he has plans. “This whole journey has really tested my resolve, but it’s also helped me find a true passion for my life…helping other kids like me hopefully fight cancer and win, or maybe never have to fight at all.”

What a terrific legacy that would be.

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