New Orleans Saints players were joined by a special visitor when they stepped to the sideline between drills on Day 6 of 2017 New Orleans Saints Training Camp presented by Verizon. Make-A-Wish's Jetty "JJ" Huish experienced the day in the life of an athletic trainer under the guidance of head trainer Scottie Patton.
At 13 years old, JJ battles severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). Huish has received two bone marrow transplants, one in 2005 and another in 2011. Two years ago, in 2015, the Roseville, Calif., native traveled to the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C., to undergo gene therapy, an experimental treatment that involves chemotherapy and inserting genes into cells.
JJ is challenged with fighting the lifelong condition. "He's probably in the hospital every three weeks for treatment," said Erin Huish, Jetty's mom.
Not truly knowing if it was possible to be an athletic trainer for the day, Jetty's goal was to be a ball boy for the New Orleans Saints. However, the Saints granted JJ much more.
"Over the years we see a lot of Make-A-Wish kids with the players and at games, but never has a Make-A-Wish person wanted to be involved with the athletic training and sports medicine department," Patton said. "It was an honor when the request came to us."
Patton allowed the young boy to shadow him for the day.
"First when he came in we made sure he was dressed like part of the medical staff," Patton said. "We gave him various fanny packs, bags where you can carry tape, scissors, Band-Aids, ammonia caps -- which he loved. We gave him all the supplies he would need that we currently use when we're out there on the practice field. We just wanted to make him feel like he was a major part of the staff."
After suiting up, the real work began in the training room.
"JJ and his family saw all the pre-practice prep, all the major things that happen before practice," Patton said. "He was able to put his hands on tape. He helped with several of the rehab activities."
Taping also provided a window of opportunity for JJ to meet and greet his favorite Saints.
Out on the practice field, Jetty was responsible for providing water to the players during hydration breaks. According to Patton, Jettywas well prepared for the task. "At his high school where he lives he's the water boy," Patton said, "so he's well-versed with a lot of the hydration things we do with our players."
Patton wasn't the only member of the organization who gave JJ props for his hard work. "His personal favorite was Adrian Peterson, because Adrian gave him a compliment that his bottle was good and cold and full of ice," Patton said, "so all day he wanted to make sure it was good and cold for when Adrian wanted a drink."
The Saints fan wrapped up practice with a game of catch with future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees.
"We played catch and we talked about how stuff goes at practice," Jetty said. "I didn't have one drop."
The football they played toss with went home with Jetty as a special reminder of his day.
At the end of practice, Jetty had the chance to stand at the podium and speak with the media.
With a large smile on his face, he told reporters, "I learned all the different types of tape they have. I learned how it goes, but I didn't tape anybody."
The Huish family was very thankful for this opportunity.
"He has been a Drew Brees, Reggie Bush fan his whole life," Erin said. "We don't know where it comes from. It's his passion. He's a Saints fan through and through. The organization has gone way beyond expectations."
The Saints staff ended the day feeling just as grateful.
"Meeting JJ and his brother who is dealing with medical issues as well and his whole family was very special for myself and my staff," Patton said. "Coming from California, there are a lot of teams between here and Sacramento. It definitely has impacted myself as well as our staff that someone would choose to spend the day with us. We do what we do and don't think much on it."
"In your career, there are a lot of memories you'll take with you coming from the NFL and the Saints, and this is one of the top memories I'll take with me."