Monday, June 25, 2007

The Puck Stops Here

Concussions, broken jaws, shoulder separations, and a knee that required reconstruction.

Not many people would consider those injuries a blessing. But former National Hockey League great Pat LaFontaine has a unique perspective on his playing days – especially the knee reconstruction surgery which led him to what he considers his true vocation in life.

Pat is a Hockey Hall of Famer who played for the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, and New York Rangers. In fact, he’s one of the highest scoring Americans ever to play the game. So when Pat had to sit out a whole season because of a knee injury, he was devastated.

On the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Pat recalled that his wife Marybeth was sympathetic to his plight, but also saw he needed some ‘tough love’ to get out of his funk. She pointed out that feeling sorry for himself for the next six months wouldn’t benefit anyone. Instead Marybeth suggested he adopt a new perspective and realize, “There’s something to be learned here.”

One week later, Pat got a call to visit Robert Schwegler, a 12 year-old boy hospitalized during a harsh bout with leukemia. Pat had always taken time to visit with sick children but this one was especially memorable because Robert was so sick, he had to be confined to isolation.

Two or three times a week, Pat would arrive at the hospital on crutches and don a cap, mask and gown to protect Robert from any potentially dangerous germs. The next hour or so would be spent playing a hockey video game and enjoying each other’s company.

One day as Pat was leaving, the nurse stopped him to say, “I just want to thank you for coming to see Robert.” Pat’s response was, “Of course. Robert’s my friend.” The nurse then broke down in tears and said, “You don’t understand. It’s the only time he smiles.” That exchange became one of the defining moments of Pat’s life. He remembers thinking, “(You) never realize the impact friendship can have.”

Though Robert passed away six months later, Pat has ensured that his legacy lives on through the “Companions in Courage Foundation” created in 1997. Taking into account how physically and emotionally draining it is for kids to endure serious illness and hospitalization, Pat realized “they could use an oasis, a safe haven, a place they can call their own (where) they can create art and music and go on the internet and talk to their friends and videoconference their heroes, teachers, parents and grandparents - just have a place where they can connect with the outside world and be able to be a kid again.”

These special environments, called “Lion’s Den Rooms,” currently exist in three children’s hospitals in New York State. The goal, of course, is to make them as available as possible so Pat works tirelessly to raise awareness and funding for the project.

Pat earned tremendous professional success playing hockey but now sees his playing days as merely a stepping stone. “I always say what happens to you is preparing you for what you’re supposed to do next in your life,” he explains. “Having gone through (my own) injuries taught me how vulnerable we are and how…we need each other.”

Pat’s Catholic Christian faith is another determining factor in why he chooses to spend his time the way he does. He says, “Jesus suffered and died for us. He gave up himself and His life for our sins. I think in our lifetime we’re supposed to learn that it’s about sacrifice, it’s about giving back. Unfortunately sometimes the most painful things you go through in your life also guide (you) to the most important things. In the end there’s…peace and there’s heaven and there’s a place we all go to where we’ll see each other again.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Actress/comedienne Sherri Shepherd recently found herself guest-hosting “The View” on the day of the Rosie O’Donnell-Elisabeth Hasselbeck steel cage match. Uncomfortable as that incident was, it can’t compare to some of the other hardships she’s faced.

While Sherri has brought plenty of laughs to audiences via her performances as Robert’s patrol-car partner Judy on the television series “Everybody Loves Raymond” or as the tart-tongued Ramona on the sitcom “Less Than Perfect,” she recently endured an experience that led her to believe she would never be able to laugh again.

The Chicago native’s son Jeffrey was born to her and husband Jeff on Sherri’s birthday. That sounds like an ideal gift for a couple that had been struggling to have a child for some time. However, Sherri was only 25 weeks into her pregnancy. Jeffrey weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces at birth. Resulting problems included bleeding on both sides of his brain, a hole in his intestines, and a body that was turning septic. Doctors advised Sherri and Jeff that they might be better off disconnecting the baby from life support because he would likely suffer from severe cerebral palsy or mental retardation. In other words, his quality of life would make death the better option.

Sherri’s Christian faith led her to read Bible verses over her son and pray unceasingly for the wisdom to make the right decision. Taking the doctors’ recommendations to heart, Sherri finally decided that she didn’t want her child to suffer. She decided to remove Jeffrey from life support and allow him to “go home” to God. She also turned to God one more time asking for a miracle.

Right before disconnecting Jeffrey from life support, the doctor came into the room and said they’d run another ultrasound. The hole in Jeffrey’s intestines had completely healed. In an interview on the radio program “Personally Speaking with Monsignor Jim Lisante,” Sherri said she knew at that moment that God was saying, “You don’t get to decide when this child comes home (to me). I make that decision.”

Sherri is happy to report that Jeffrey is now a strong, active and healthy boy. None of the doctors’ dire predictions came to pass. The experience led to some major spiritual growth. She says, “(My) relationship with God has gone to such a different level of absolute faith in the unseen. The circumstances can dictate one thing but I’ve got to look to God for everything.”

Sherri’s story would have a happy ending if it finished here. But...