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Monday December 27, 2010Gator Football Players Visit St. Joseph's Children's Hospital

Tampa, Fla.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

The group of Florida football players had just left 11-year-old Linda Louise Grieff’s room at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital here Monday afternoon when her mother, also named Linda, chased after them to show them a photo.


The picture was of Linda Louise on a better day. She was smiling wide, her arms outstretched and full of life. Her mom wanted to make sure the players saw Linda Louise in full bloom.


The fifth-grader was much more subdued when several Gators, including starting safety Ahmad Black and back-up quarterback Trey Burton, stopped by for a visit as part of an Outback Bowl community service outing.


WATCH: Florida Hospital Visit 12-27-10 (GatorVision)

Linda Louise suffers from Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder that leads to developmental reversals, especially in the areas of expressive language and hand use according to Google Health. Linda Grieff said the disease causes her daughter severe breathing problems and seizures.


Shortly before players from Florida and Penn State visited Monday, Linda Louise needed medicine for pain she was having breathing. She was nearly asleep when they came into the room, but she opened her eyes long enough for some of that bubbly spirit she is known for to shine through.


“She is very social and outgoing,’’ Linda Grieff said. “It means a lot to her to have people in the room. She’s a girl. She likes it when the guys come by. It helps take her mind off the pain she is going through.’’


Linda Louis has been in the hospital for two weeks, leaving only for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve to enjoy the holiday in her own house. Her mom said it remains uncertain when she’ll be able to go home.


The same story was true in many of the rooms the players stopped by with gift bags containing Gator T-shirts, pom-poms and an Outback Bowl souvenir necklace made of beads.


More than 20 Florida players participated in the outing after practicing earlier in the day at the University of Tampa. The Gators face Penn State in the 25th Anniversary Outback Bowl on Saturday at Raymond James Stadium.


Less than a mile away from the site of Saturday’s game, Black appreciated the opportunity to visit dozens of sick children and their families on Monday.


“It’s a way to give back and to put some smiles on their faces,’’ Black said. “It makes us feel good because it makes them feel good.’’


Former Florida and NFL running back Terry Jackson, now UF’s director of player and community relations, escorted the players to Monday’s event. Besides Black and Burton, regulars Cody Riggs, Solomon Patton and injured starting kicker Caleb Sturgis made the rounds.


The look on the faces of the sick children when the players entered their rooms was the best part.


VIEW: Football Players Visit St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital (GatorZone gallery)


“It’s priceless,’’ Jackson said. “It makes somebody’s day. These guys, they come to practice and sometimes complain that an ankle hurts or something pretty minor.


“When you look at it, you come to the hospital and there are kids that are going through what they are going through and to actually put a smile on their face and make them feel better – as a player, it makes you say that was worth it.’’


Burton, the Gators’ top freshman this season, enjoyed the experience.


“If we can help make them forget they’re sick for a minute by coming by to talk to them, it’s definitely worth it,’’ he said. “It was a lot of fun and makes you appreciate what you have.’’


As they players headed off to another room, Linda Grieff stuck the picture of her daughter back in her purse and went back to her bedside seat. She can’t wait for her little girl’s smile to return permanently.


Monday’s visit from the Gators was a step in the right direction.


“She was kind of hurting when they came in,’’ Linda said. “She’ll remember, especially when I show her what they left her.’’


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