F-22 demo team inspires at children's hospital

  • Published
  • By Capt. Rob Lazaro
  • National Civic Outreach Office, Chicago
Upon arriving at La Rabida Children's Hospital on Chicago's lakeshore Aug. 15, members of the Air Force's F-22 Raptor demonstration team noticed an immediate mood change in the air. The specialty hospital, which holistically treats more than 9,000 children annually, was one of the first places the team wanted to visit during their stop here in support of the Chicago Air and Water Show.

Hoping to bring a little cheer, wonder and much-coveted Raptor stickers to the infirmed children, the team found their own mood, amazement and spirits lifted as well in the process. For as much energy and excitement the team put forth in meeting and greeting patients, their enthusiasm was equally matched by the children they met.

"These visits mean a lot to the children," said Brenda Wolf, chief operating officer at La Rabida Children's Hospital. "It gets children's mind off of their condition and even excites the staff."

The children's ailments ranged from chronic illnesses and developmental disabilities to mental abuse and trauma. Inquisitive, confident and determined in their efforts to get better, many of the children embodied the hospital's motto of "Raising possibilities for a lifetime."

"Can you sign my cast?" asked one of the patients as she jutted her leg toward the team members, while supporting herself on crutches. "I've never met a pilot before and would love to see the air show this weekend."

"Since you're right on the lakefront, you might be able to see some of the show from your window right here at the hospital," replied Maj. Paul Moga, the Air Force's sole F-22 demonstration pilot.

The team met with dozens of patients in the treatment facility, play-area pavilion and cafeteria -- even leaving signed lithographs outside patient's rooms who were asleep at the time of the visit.

Eight-year old Maseeh Muhammad's "thanks" said it all as he looked transfixed at the F-22 photograph dreaming of the possibility that he too could one day become a pilot.

"The staff and patients were very impressed with the generosity of spirit, kindness and warmth (the team) demonstrated," said Gretchen Holmberg, hospital director of public relations. "They tied shoes, signed casts and high-fived with heart and enthusiasm."

As the team left, they began planning a children's hospital visit at their next air show performance in Toronto.

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