If their story had ended where it did when we first told it last month, it would still be one of our favorites. Seth Bayles, an 11th-grader in a lifelong fight against a rare autoimmune disease, unexpectedly met two kindred spirits while in the hospital at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.
It started when Patrick Quandt, a nurse working a shift in Pediatrics, learned that Seth was a devoted fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, which also happens to be Quandt's team (if we're to believe his tattoo). Patrick reached out to his friend and fellow Steelers fan John Stulak, M.D., a cardiac surgeon at Mayo Clinic, who later stopped by to meet Seth and, inspired by Seth's story, gave him a football signed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Soon after that memorable meeting, Seth's story made its way across the internet and eventually landed in front of Roethlisberger's social media and website manager, Erin Cox. Cox showed the story to Big Ben himself, who, while touched, noticed that the signature on the football Dr. Stulak gave to Seth wasn't his own. "I was shocked," Seth's mom, Julie Bayles, tells us of her reaction to Cox reaching out to break the news. "But Erin said Mr. Roethlisberger wanted to make it right."
And boy did he. Roethlisberger sent both Seth and Dr. Stulak new signed footballs. He also sent a personal video message. All Julie had to do was get Seth and Dr. Stulak in the same room, which she tells us wasn't hard at all. "When they met the first time, Seth was at Mayo for emergency surgery, and he ended up having to come back for a second procedure," she tells us. They had plans to drive back to Rochester from their Bristol, Wisconsin, home for a follow-up visit. "I already knew the footballs were coming at that point and I hoped they'd arrive in time," Julie says.
Julie's plan continued to fall into place when she and Seth stopped to see Dr. Stulak. "He thought we were just coming up to say hi because he wants us to do that now whenever we're back at Mayo," she tells us. "There's a conference room next to his office with a big screen in it, and when I saw that, we scurried to get everything in place."
"We," meaning not only Julie, but also Quandt and a local TV crew that was there to capture the moment. "Dr. Stulak didn't know what was happening, and when he walked in, he was a bit confused by all the people," Julie tells us.
Then Julie pushed "play" on the video message from Big Ben. "I don't think either of them could talk," Julie says. "Their jaws both dropped to the floor. It was a sweet, sweet moment."
And one that Dr. Stulak tells us he never expected to happen. "What this whole experience has given me is a better understanding that while something might seem small to me, it may mean an entire world to somebody else," he says. "I didn't know Seth before all of this happened. I realize now that giving him that original football wasn't as small of a thing as I thought."
It's something Julie says wouldn't have happened in the first place had it not been for Quandt. "Patrick started all of this," she says. "He has a heart of gold and we couldn't be more thankful or grateful for him."
You can read more, and watch Roethlisberger's video message to Seth and Dr. Stulak, here. Then let us know what you think by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.