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Players treat kids with hospital visit

Posted Oct 25, 2011

CHARLOTTE - The Proton Pack attached to offensive tackle Lee Ziemba's costume didn't actually have the power to bust ghosts, but it did have the power to disarm the kids that gathered Tuesday for the Panthers' annual Halloween visit to Levine Children's Hospital.

"This is a good opportunity to give back, to put a smile on a kid's face that might not really have a reason to smile right now," Ziemba said. "It's about helping other people."

Ziemba the Ghostbuster was one of seven Panthers rookies to take part in the event, a group that included 310-pound Sione Fua as a tutu-wearing hippo, Brandon Hogan as SpongeBob SquarePants and quarterback Cam Newton not as Superman but rather as himself.

While Newton and other rookies interacted with the children, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera watched the uplifting scene from the background, though he didn't avoid detection.

"There's a gentleman back there dressed up just like Coach Ron Rivera," Panthers community relations director Riley Fields told the crowd gathered in the hospital atrium. "I don't know who your makeup guy is, but they're fantastic."

Rivera couldn't help but smile.

"Like Cam, I was in meetings this morning, trying to get a jump on our next opponent. And I'm not too sure there was a costume I could fit into," Rivera said. "This is a chance for us to do something that allows us to give back to the community that is supporting us. It's special that our guys are willing to do this, to bring a little sunshine to these kids."

That's exactly what they did.

Downstairs in the atrium, 6-year-old Zoe Grier was among the fortunate ones to get a football autographed by Newton. This is a short trip to Levine by Grier's standards – only about a week – but Tuesday was the first time she had been out of isolation during her third stay at the hospital since 2009.

"She's had a bone marrow transplant, so she has been here before for a whole month," said Grier's mother, Lakeisha Leach. "Today is the first day she got to come out of her room, and this was a big surprise for her."

After interacting with patients in the atrium, players dispersed throughout the upper floors of the facility to visit children in their rooms.

The 10th floor was a popular destination and one that felt a little bit like home: a Panthers-themed floor. The décor Tuesday included Carrie Keuten, Levine's event coordinator for child life, dressed up as Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis.

"It's the only themed floor in the hospital," Keuten said. "This day is just awesome for our families and mostly for our patients. It's such a big diversion for them. They can have a little fun and know that our Carolina Panthers care about them."

Seventeen-year-old Chloe Archer certainly appreciated the visit. A pitcher on the Lake Norman High School softball team and an aspiring broadcast journalist, Archer got to meet professional athletes and have the camera pointed at her.

"This is amazing," said Archer, who wished the players the best of luck for the remainder of the season as they departed her room. "I'm so glad they came to visit."

Kristin Atwell, a 17-year-old who attends East Lincoln High School, said it meant a lot that the players cared enough to visit.

Her mother got something out of the day as well.

"It means so much to have you guys come out," Feles Atwell said. "We're PSL owners. My father started that for us – he was one of the original PSL owners – so this really means a lot.

"We enjoy giving back to little causes in our community too, so it's neat to know that we're a part of what you're doing even though we're spectators most of the time."