The Bears and NFL Foundation donated $20,000 to Shriners Hospital for Children-Chicago on Thursday morning. The grant will create three new therapy and play spaces within the hospital and purchase equipment for the patients to use for play and rehabilitation.
After the Bears rookie class presented the check to Shriners Hospital, 2211 N. Oak Park Ave., the players scattered with the young patients to play a variety of games including foosball and ping pong.
That’s when Roquan Smith and Joel Iyiegbuniwe made an unexpected friend. While players went off, Iyiegbuniwe and Smith separated themselves to meet with the media. Soft-spoken Miles Heerema followed closely at their side.
While Iyieguniwe spoke, Heerema and Smith were debating on what to name his new stuffed bear.
“Miles two. He could be Miles two,” Smith suggested.
Heerema shook his head no.
“What about Bubble the Bear? No? What about Smokey the Bear?”
Heerema smiled and nodded. That’s it.
“All right, that’s settled. Smokey the Bear is his name.”
When Smith parted ways to do his media session, Heerema locked onto Iyieguniwe and for the rest of the morning, the eight-year-old, who has a growing rods in his back that have slowed his physical development, never left the side of the 6-foot-1, 230-pound NFL player.
Standing next to Iyieguniwe, Heerema’s head measured to be just above the linebacker’s hip. The two bounced a basketball back-and-forth for about 20 minutes before the moving onto the basketball court to shoot hoops.
“You build relationships, man, and you give back to the community,” Iyieguniwe said. “You learn stories of these kids and what they go through and what their family go through. And I think that’s special. It opens your heart a little bit.
“[Heerema] is full of energy and we’re just bonding and having a good time.”
Heerema had one word for his morning playing with the Bears: “Awesome.”
Smith said he was inspired all morning by these young patients like Heerema.
“It’s amazing how much they go through at such a young age,” Smith said. “The amount of strength they have and courage they show on the daily, it’s insane. And just thinking about it — if anything ever gets hard in our life and knowing what these kids go through at such a young age — it makes you very grateful for what you have.”