SALT LAKE CITY — Patrick Cronin was trying to walk his way out of a morphine fog when he saw the Jazz players standing in the hallway of Primary Children's Medical Center.
The 13-year-old rushed back to his room and waited to see if the man whose name he'd spent four and a half weeks learning would be the one to visit him. When he was not, Cronin and his family went looking for Gordon Hayward.
"This is the best day," said Kim Cronin as her son beamed at Hayward. "Aren't you glad the morphine wore off?"
Hayward was handing out autographed basketballs and posing for pictures with the rest of his teammates and the Jazz coaching staff. The team visits Primary Children Medical Center and Shriner's Hospital every year at Christmas time.
While the players participate in a lot of service projects and special events throughout the year, the holiday visit to the young patients and their families is just a little bit different.
"This is special because it's during the holidays," said Hayward. "This kind of slows things down. It's cool to be able to brighten the day for people. It's definitely special."
It was a moment of happiness for children who are hoping they are well enough to go home for Christmas. While some were too young or too sick to understand just who was visiting them, Cronin was thrilled to not only meet Hayward, but to have a brief chat and a few pictures.
The seventh grader became a fan when he and his family were on a trip and stopped to have lunch at ESPN Zone restaurant. There he watched Hayward lead his college team, Butler University, on an improbable run to the finals in 2010.
"He loves basketball and he loves Gordon," said his mom, Kim, who fought back tears as she explained just what the visit meant to Patrick, who suffers from Apraxia, a disorder that makes it difficult to learn to speak. He was in the hospital after undergoing an emergency appendectomy.
When the family went to an autograph signing at EnergySolutions Arena last year, Patrick decided to learn to say his hero's name.
"He worked on his name for four and a half weeks," said his mom. "Just so he could say, 'Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz.'"
Hayward said he was humbled to hear Patrick's story.
"It's pretty cool to have my name be the one that he learned," said Hayward. "It's so hard to realize that you can make a difference like that. It reminds us that we're placed on pedistals and we can use it for a purpose. It's one thing I'm able to do, to change lives like that. It's very humbling."
The players spread holiday cheer throughout the hospitals, stopping to pose for pictures and chat about Wednesday's win. Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden said he has "a small sense of what the families go through" because three of his daughters have sought treatment at PCMC.
"One of my daughters had to have a major surgery, and it was Christmas Eve," he said. "I looked up and coming down the hallway were 18 fire fighters."
Layden stopped to introduce himself to the relatives who sat by the besides of the children, all of whom thanked him and the players for coming.
"This is good for the players to come and to touch the families as only they can," he said, acknowledging his girls had even had visits from former Jazz players. "I was really touched by how kind, how tender the players were."
One little girl and her mom were hoping Thursday would be their last day in the hospital for a while. Emma Pearl Hales is named for her grandma Pearl, who was a huge Jazz fan.
"Thank you," Andrea Hales said. "Thank you so much for coming."
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