Patrick Quandt wasn't where he wanted to be. As a nurse in Mayo Clinic's trauma intensive care unit, he normally wasn't asked to work in Pediatrics. That was just fine by him, for a reason that probably shouldn't have surprised us. "I don't like seeing kids in the hospital," he tells us. But when he arrived at work one morning and was told he was needed there as a float nurse, he brushed aside his anxiety.
Meanwhile, Seth Bayles (aka the "Pop Tab Kid") was sleeping in the hospital bed. His mom, Julie Bayles, was up and getting ready for yet another day in the hospital with her son. Julie tells us Seth was back at Mayo after complications from the insertion of a feeding tube eight weeks earlier had landed him back in the hospital. "We'd been to three emergency rooms within our home state of Wisconsin, but since he's such a complex case we came back to Mayo," she says.
When Seth awoke, Quandt struck up a conversation with his new patient. He soon learned that Seth is a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan. That was all the opening Quandt needed. "Patrick then lifted up his sleeve and showed Seth this huge Pittsburgh Steelers tattoo on his arm," Julie tells us. "I thought Seth was going to have a heart attack right then and there."
After a quick fist bump, Quandt asked Seth's mom if he could text his friend and Mayo cardiovascular surgeon John Stulak, M.D., who's also card-carrying member of Steelers Nation. "I had to let him know I was taking care of another Steelers fan," Quandt says. "And he said, 'I'll be right over.'"
Dr. Stulak, however, didn't come empty-handed. He brought a very special football — one that had been signed by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "It was a wedding gift from my brother, and it's great," Dr. Stulak tells us. "But it just sits there. And so after hearing about Seth and his case, I decided it belongs with him more than it belongs with me."
After finishing a surgical case he was supervising, Dr. Stulak made good on that thought. "Before I went into Seth's room, I dug out my Steelers surgeon's cap because I thought, 'I'll just really Steelers it up here,'" he tells us. "After I walked in and Seth saw my cap, he had to put his own Steelers hat on, too."
As Seth, Dr. Stulak and Quandt huddled about their favorite NFL team, Seth shared that his favorite player is none other than Roethlisberger. Dr. Stulak called an audible. "I said, 'We can sit here and talk about sports heroes, but in my book, Seth, you're the real hero,'" he tells us. "Then I said, 'I want you to please accept something from me.' I backed out of the room, grabbed the ball and gave it to him."
Julie and Seth were floored. "Watching Dr. Stulak present this football, in a case, in a hospital room, to a child he didn't even know made me very emotional," Julie says. "To see someone bring such joy to your son who is hurting so badly is huge. It's a huge gift."
A gift that Quandt says illustrates the character of Dr. Stulak. "I think it's important for people to know just how selfless he is," Quandt tells us. "This isn't an isolated case. That was John being John."
And that, Julie tells us, only confirms why she and her husband drive the five hours it takes to get to Mayo for Seth's care. "It shows you they're in it for the calling," she says. "It's why Mayo Clinic is the world-renowned hospital it is — because they hand-select people like Patrick and Dr. Stulak to work there."
It also confirms, Julie says, Seth's dream of one day coming back to Mayo in a different capacity. "He wants to become a hospital chaplain," Julie tells us. "He now hopes, prays and dreams about coming back to Mayo Clinic one day and becoming a chaplain so he can sit at the bedsides of patients and tell them he knows exactly what they're going through. And if that ultimately happens, it will be one of the best things to come out of his medical journey."
That and a football signed by Ben Roethlisberger, of course.
You can read more about Seth, Dr. Stulak and Quandt here and here. And follow along with Seth's medical journey via his family's Facebook page. Then follow us over and leave a comment below before using the social media tools to share this story with others.