John Lannan visits the Children's Inn
Before Eric Petel met John Lannan, he covered the back of his neck with the hood of his sweatshirt. He didn't want Lannan to see his New York Yankees tattoo.
Lannan had come to the Children's Inn to visit with seriously ill children like Petel. Eventually, Petel showed him the tattoo. That was okay, Lannan told Petel. He was from New York, too, and the Yankees were his first favorite team. Soon, they were playing pool in a game room.
"It was cool," Petel said. "I kicked his butt."
Yesterday afternoon, Lannan spent time with kids staying at the Children's Inn at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He played pool and air hockey, handed out T-shirts and signed autographs. Tonight, those kids and their families will attend the Nationals game, sitting behind the bullpen and wearing shirts with Lannan's name on the back.
"It's something my parents taught me as a little kid," Lannan said. "We have all the time in the world to go out and do stuff. We live a great life. It's just giving back a little bit."
The game will help the Children's Inn achieve its goal: "The mission of the Inn is to take their mind off the reason that they're here," said Meredith Daly, the media relations coordinator. "We are highly skilled at taking kids' minds off that yucky stuff." Put another way, they do whatever they can to make children forget they're going through hell.
The Inn supports 59 families with children who receive care at NIH. The children there are all either chronically or seriously ill. "Everyone who comes here has come here because all other treatment has failed," Daly said. It provides support to families and a place for them to stay. On Monday, that meant Lannan visiting.
"Here, we have our issues, and then we go to the hospital," Petel said. "Some days it's an easy day. Some days it's a hard day. Just coming back here and relaxing, and having baseball teams or football teams, whatever kind of sport teams, come in and hang out with us is pretty cool. It's taking time out of their day. It shows that they care."
Petel, 23, has been coming to the Inn since he was 16. He was born in Harlem with HIV and he was adopted when he was 16 months old. Petel's biological mother died when he was 3. He assumes his father is also dead, because he stayed in the HIV unit of prison. Petel has seven tattoos, and they all meaning. He has one each for the two big sisters and one younger brother who have passed away.
"What he's not saying is he's terminally ill," said his mother, Helen Petel. "He's resistant to the meds, and right now his kidneys are failing. He has to have a kidney biopsy Thursday. He also has a blockage to both arteries in his heart. His body is basically falling apart bit by bit. So he keeps coming here."
Petel smiled often Monday. He showed off pictures of his 4x4 Jeep Grand Charokee with twin 15-inch subwoofers inside -- "my project," he said. He talked about how he'll still be proud of his tattoos when he's 75. He boasted about the friends he has met at the Inn.
"To me, it's fun," Petel said. "This is my vacation from all the stress out there. I can have the stress from the doctors when I'm over there, and then come over here, play pool, go on the computer, watch the movie, play video games, just kick back and relax."
Lannan stayed in Washington over the offseason, in part because he wanted to involve himself in the community. He visited the Children's Inn at Halloween and decided he wanted to come back again. Lannan left them tickets and food vouchers. "That's someone who really understands what these families are going through," Daly said.
"It doesn't really take much," Lannan said. "And it goes a long way."
April 20, 2010; 10:25 AM ET
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