Barrett, Frandsen brighten day for young patients

After hospital visit, pair heads to Nats' Youth Academy

Barrett, Frandsen brighten day for young patients

WASHINGTON -- Sean Heagney was lying in a bed at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital on Friday, undergoing a plasmapheresis, in which plasma is removed from the blood and replaced to get rid of harmful antibodies. During such a procedure, any movement can cause severe bleeding.

Yet the 13-year-old eighth grader from Fort Collins, Colo., had trouble keeping himself still when a nurse told him that Nationals players would be visiting the hospital's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center later that day.

"He literally almost jumped out of bed," said his mother, Tami Heagney. "We were like, 'You have to stay there.' Ever since then, he was looking at the clock because he couldn't wait to come in here."

Sean eventually got his chance, meeting Nats relief pitcher Aaron Barrett and utility man Kevin Frandsen at the Hope for Henry Foundation's Winter Wonderland Holiday Party. The event was the first of two stops the pair made Friday afternoon; they later visited the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in Southeast Washington. Both players were in town for Saturday's NatsFest.

The connection between the players and patients at the hospital was especially meaningful for Hope for Henry's founders and Frandsen.

Allen Goldberg and his wife, Laurie Strongin, started the organization in 2003 to improve the quality of life for children fighting cancer and other life-threatening illnesses by providing gifts, parties and other fun events. Their seven-year-old son, Henry, died the year before after a lifelong battle with a blood disorder known as Fanconi anemia. But Goldberg has never forgotten how much it meant to Henry, a huge baseball fan, when he got to meet and talk with Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. during Spring Training one year, before he underwent a bone marrow transplant.

"Day to day, it's pretty brutal, the experience," Goldberg said of children in the hospital. "It's monotonous, it's painful, but when somebody like an Aaron Barrett or a Kevin Frandsen walks in the room, that all goes out the window. It changes the whole equation."

Frandsen has a special appreciation for the struggles of those kids and their siblings. He was there as his older brother, D.J., fought cancer for 19 years before passing away in 2004, and his family created its own foundation, 19 for Life, in his honor.

"Whether it's one minute, whether it's five minutes, whether it's 15 minutes, whether it's an hour's worth of joy or a smile, it's that distraction from getting blood drawn or another chemo session or something like that," Frandsen said. "That's the goal. Not every kid's going to be receptive and be happy, because their bodies just aren't allowing them to do it right now, but at the same time, if you can get just a little bit of a smile, that half-smile, that's fine enough for me."

Frandsen and Barrett -- joined by mascot Screech -- saw plenty of grins as they took photos with patients in a holiday-themed photo booth, signed Nats memorabilia and helped decorate a special gingerbread baseball field that included likenesses of the team's racing presidents. They also went around the hospital to visit other children who weren't able to leave their beds for the event.

Heagney, an avid baseball player before he fell ill a little more than a year ago, left carrying a signed cap, with his shock of bright red hair stuffed into a Nats beanie. He was still excited about the selfie he got with Barrett and Frandsen.

"They were pretty humble, being professional ballplayers," he said.

Once done at the hospital, the players were zipped across the city to the Academy, a state-of-the-art facility completed in March that serves at-risk kids living in D.C.'s Wards 7 and 8. It includes classrooms, a training space with batting cages, outdoor playing fields and a teaching kitchen for cooking and nutrition lessons.

About 100 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders are enrolled at the Academy and spent time with the players, who conducted question-and-answer sessions, signed autographs and threw soft-toss as part of a series of fundamental drills.

"It's a great facility. I've never seen anything this nice," said Barrett, who also paid a visit during the season, his first in the Majors. "And I just think it's important to be able to give back to the kids in this area. Having the opportunity to do something like this, it warms my heart, and it feels good to be able to come here. It's a really neat opportunity."

Frandsen estimated it was already his fourth or fifth time at the Academy, enough that some of the kids remember him, and he's able to recognize them.

"Not only is the place state-of-the-art -- and why wouldn't you want to come here -- but it's easy to take an hour or two of your day when you see how excited [the kids] get," he said. "Even for a utility guy, they get excited."

Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.