PGA TOUR Wives Visit Sick Children While Husbands Play in Pro-Am at Zurich Classic
May 1, 2012
By Sheila Stroup/The Times-Picayune
This article originally appeared in the Times-Picayune.
NEW ORLEANS-- While their husbands were playing in the pro-am at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on Wednesday, 21 PGA wives were playing a different kind of golf with pediatric patients at Ochsner Medical Center. “I helped some of them play Putt-Putt,” said Sarah McGirt, wife of William McGirt. “It was fun. One kid gave me a putting tip.”
The wives were at Ochsner to get a tour of the pediatric unit, meet patients, and hand out quilts donated by the nonprofit group “Quilts for Kids.” They also had Zurich Classic caps for the children and encouragement for their parents.
“Every week we’re in a new city, and we love to be able to give back,” Stacy Hoffman, wife of Charley Hoffman, said. “Our mission is to give back to women and children, so this is a perfect place for us to be.”
The life of a professional golfer is a nomadic one, and often their families travel with them. For the Hoffmans, who are on the road around 30 weeks every year, that includes their daughter Claire, 18 months old.
“The Tour has a daycare for us. A group of childcare people travel with us,” Stacy Hoffman said.
The hospital tour was more than a chance for the women to offer support to the young patients and their families. It was also a way for them to see how the Zurich Classic, produced by the Fore!Kids Foundation, has been able to make the pediatric unit seem less like a hospital ward and more like a welcoming home-away-from-home for children and teenagers.
“This is where we take proceeds from the Zurich Classic,” David Gaines said.
Gaines, the CEO of marketing for Ochsner Health System, is also on the board of Fore!Kids, the Louisiana nonprofit with the motto “Helping kids through golf.”
“We’ve got this massive sporting event, and the PGA Tour says we have to give this money to charity,” Gaines said. “That’s why we wanted the wives to see where the money goes.”
The tour was both enlightening and sobering.
Annie Pirrone, clinical coordinator of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, told the wives about the babies and young children who come there: Some need open-heart surgery. Others need a life-saving heart transplant, and organs available for infants and small children are rare.
“The parents are a great support system for each other,” Pirrone said. “But, for now, they wait.”
The good news is that when a baby has open-heart surgery or gets a new heart, the results are often dramatic and almost immediate, and the tiny patients heal quickly.
“Every time, it’s like, ‘Wow!’ It never gets old,” she said.
Pirrone pointed out an improvement provided by Fore!Kids: Small white hospital cribs for babies and toddlers instead of the “giant beds” they used to have in the unit. They have soft blankets, and teddy bear mobiles hang above them.
“They’re so much better than the big metal beds,” she said.
Katharine Pitcher, a Certified Child Life Specialist, pointed out other enhancements, such as the computers in the teen room and the portable Wii for patients who are contagious or not well enough to come to the play areas. She also explained the idea behind the teen room and the large playroom next door and told the wives what the specialists do.
“We try to keep the patients happy and upbeat,” she said. “We let them know ahead of time what they’re going to go through.”
For the younger children, there are teaching dolls with ports and central lines, and for all the pediatric patient, procedures are done in a treatment room. The rooms where they stay are more like their own bedrooms, where they can relax and feel safe. And the playroom and teen room are “white coat free” areas.
“Doctors can come, but they have to leave their white coats outside,” she said.
The playroom has a large-screen TV, toys, window paints, crafts and games for younger patients, and the teen room is a special place for patients 12 and older. It’s a parent-free zone, where they can watch movies, play on the Wii and Xbox, and even catch up with their Facebook friends.
“They get some freedom back after it’s all taken away when they come into the hospital,” Pitcher said. “We tell them, ‘It’s a place just for you. It’s a place where you can chill.’”
While some PGA wives toured the unit, others were visiting patients in their rooms or playing with the ambulatory patients.
Christine Lee, wife of Richard Lee, and January Mallinger, wife of John Mallinger, visited 2-month-old Jeremiah Reeves and his mom, Tasha Reeves, and gave the blue-eyed blond baby a quilt and a cap that was way too big for his little head. Jeremiah had open heart surgery when he was a week old.
“We’re going home today,” his mom said, smiling.
Before they left, the wives both gave her a warm hug.
“You’re an inspiration,” Christine Lee told her.
In the Putt-Putt Golf area, Julie Petrovic looked right at home helping a young patient play golf.
“Whoops. We’re in the water,” she said, laughing, when a ball flew over her head and out of the room.”
Her husband, Tim Petrovic, won the Zurich Classic in 2005. This is his 11th year on the Tour, and she and their daughters, Bayleigh, 13; and Mackenzie, 10; travel with him more than half the year. Bayleigh and Mackenzie were at Ochsner with their mom.
“My older daughter has aged out of daycare, so we’re a package deal at volunteer events,” she said. “I like having them here. I think it’s important for kids to know that other people don’t have perfect lives.”
While most of the players and their wives have been staying in New Orleans hotels, the Petrovics travel around the country in an RV, so their daughters can be home-schooled and their 10-pound pup can go along. Although Julie Petrovic misses their home in Austin, she appreciates seeing the country.
“When I’m teaching the girls about the Grand Canyon or Lady Liberty, I can show them what I’m talking about,” she said.
This week, her daughters are getting a nature lesson at Bayou Segnette, along with taking in the sights of the New Orleans area. And she’s glad the pediatric unit at Ochsner was one of those sights.
“My older daughter was a preemie, so I know how the moms feel,” she said. “As the caregiver you get lost in the whole process, and it means so much for someone to give you a hug and say, ‘You can do this.’”
Their visit to Ochsner was one of many memorable adventures they’ve had in New Orleans.
“I really consider the city we’re visiting our home for the week,” she said. “I’m glad we could do a little something to make things better.”
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