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FORT WORTH, Texas -- Air Force Academy cheerleaders and football players helped spread some holiday cheer with patients and their families at Cooks Children's Medical Center Dec. 27 here.
The Academy cadets, in town for the Armed Forces Bowl, took time out of their bowl game preparations and holiday vacations to visit the children's hospital in central Fort Worth, Texas, with members of the Rice University football and cheerleading squads.
With the Academy's costumed mascot, the Bird, leading the charge, cadets spent time talking with children and their families, giving gifts and smiles to the hospital's young patients.
"It's wonderful for community members like this to come in," said Julie Dore, program director for the child life department at Cooks Children's Hospital. "The kids love having anyone from the outside coming in, especially people like these football players, cheerleaders and celebrities in their eyes to come in and just bring a little bit of normalization to the kids. It is something fun to get the kids out of their rooms and make their stay here a little more enjoyable. The majority of the kids love any type of costumed mascot and love to talk and interact with them."
Cadets talked with the children, gave gifts and signed footballs. The Bird played catch with a few of the kids, taking the patients' minds off the grim realities that brought them to the children's' hospital.
For one of the cadets, it put his own medical battle into perspective. Cadet 2nd Class Michael Husar Jr. began this season as the Academy's starter at center, before suffering an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his knee, ending his season after one game. While he feels ready and is more than willing to play in this week's bowl game, his doctor won't clear him this early in the rehabilitation process to test his knee. Still, Husar never once complained about his own injury at the children's hospital.
"Some of these kids may never be able to play football. It shows they're fighting on a different type of field, and in some cases, they're just fighting to survive," said Husar, a native of Mount Carmel, Ind. "This really puts football into perspective, that it's just a game and at the end of the day this is what's really important."
The Cooks Children's Medical Center is part of the Cook Children's Health Care System, a non-profit, nationally recognized pediatric health care organization. Based in Fort Worth, the integrated system has more than 60 primary and specialty care offices throughout north Texas, with an additional referral area encompassing nearly half the state.