One morning while rounding on patients, I had the pleasure of meeting Gary Parliment, a patient who had suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury.
At the time of our meeting, he was watching Sports Center. Instead of talking about his condition, he took his time with me to talk about his hero, Harrison Smith, who is a five time pro bowler for the Minnesota Vikings. Gary acknowledged his skills as a player but really focused on his character off the field.
I had the pleasure of working with Harrison’s sister, who used to work as a physical therapist in our Roper Rehabilitation Hospital, so I reached out to her to see whether her brother might be willing to send Gary an autograph.
True to character, Harrison told her he would send one. A month went by and I hadn’t received it. I didn’t want to bother Harrison as I’m sure he gets requests constantly and Gary did not know I had asked for an autograph, so there was no potential for disappointment.
Fast forward a couple weeks and a jersey signed with a sincere personal message shows up in my mailbox. I knew Gary would be so excited to receive it.
After several attempts to get the jersey to Gary while trying to keep it a surprise, Gary moved to Florida. Knowing he would be returning for follow up appointments, I hung onto it, hoping to be able to hand it to him in person. I wanted to see firsthand the joy on his face.
We finally got to do that Dec. 31, 2019. I had been in touch with a family member who was caring for him and we made arrangements to meet.
Gary had no clue about any of this. He came for a follow up appointment with his neurosurgeon, received some bad news and was feeling down. When the family member rolled his wheelchair out of the appointment, I met them.
I asked Gary if he remembered our conversation about Harrison, which he did. I told him that Harrison heard he was a fan and wanted to get something to him.
I will always remember the way his demeanor changed the second I pulled the jersey out. After staring in disbelief, he said, “Son of a gun, you gotta be kidding me!” except he used slightly more colorful language. He went from somber with his shoulders sagging to pure joy in a second.
After experiencing a rough year myself, I have to say that this was the perfect way to spend the eve of the New Year. I’m sure Gary feels the same.
I don’t know much about Harrison aside from this experience, but I’m guessing he probably wouldn’t want acknowledgment for what he did for Gary. But I know he made a big difference today.
Despite my love for the Chicago Bears, I will be cheering for Harrison from now on.
The following story was written by Jessica McAnnar, care tool coordinator for Roper Rehabilitation Hospital. She’s pictured above with Gary.