Kourtlyn Uzoma grew sick. Just 13 years old, he was sick of being sick, sick of the battles with a wicked cancer, sick of the relapses and the two years trying to get well inside a hospital.
Then came word of a special camp — Kamp Kourtlyn, to be hosted by Bob Stoops and the Sooners at their practice field in Norman. Just for him. And for a day, Kourtlyn wasn't sick anymore. "He hung around with the football players, tossed the ball,” said Kourtlyn's dad, Clement Uzoma. "Bob took him in his BMW and they went around everywhere. It was just joyful to see Kourtlyn and his face and how he reacted when he got home.” Such an effect Stoops had on the little man. "Bob Stoops,” Clement said, "was God's angel sent to Kourtlyn.” While few know this personal side of Stoops, similar stories stream from the many who have either seen or experienced the Oklahoma football coach's continual outreach and acts of compassion for sick children. Publicly, it may be a hard and rugged persona that Stoops puts forth, but privately, particularly when in the company of kids in distress — which is often — he's gentle and soft. "What's impressive, it's something he doesn't share with other people,” said former Sooner Jacob Gutierrez, who became known for his own charitable acts while at OU. "It's not a publicity thing. It's him being who he is. He understands he can make an impact on other people's lives, and he takes the time to do that. "It's not because he wants the attention or it's someone making him, it's just because. "And that's who coach Stoops is.”
Bob Stoops: behind the scenesKay Tangner, a volunteer at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, first invited Stoops and his players to a pep rally the young cancer patients wanted to throw to celebrate the Sooners' 2000 national championship. Stoops accepted. And he's been returning ever since. More and more frequently over time. In season. The off-season. Over the summer. Sometimes Stoops arrives with players. Many times he slips in alone, unannounced. "We were in the hospital a lot last year,” said Stacy Hasley, whose 7-year-old daughter Jordan is in remission from leukemia. "One morning, it was 8 o'clock and there's this knock on the door. And the door opens and it's him. "It's just a very cool thing that he does.” Stoops has stopped in at the hospital with his own family on Thanksgiving mornings and also near Christmas. When he can, he celebrates birthdays with the kids. "Just hangs out,” Tangner said. "Talks. Sits on the edge of the bed.” If anything, Stoops has avoided any attention when it comes to his time at the hospital and his fight for the cause. Even his charity, the Bob Stoops Champions Foundation, aimed at helping ill or disadvantaged children, maintains a low profile. Only recently, sensing that he could help enhance awareness of the need for critical bone marrow matches that many sick patients are awaiting, has Stoops peeled back the curtain. During the team's annual Media Day earlier this month, Stoops welcomed reporters to a volunteer testing procedure to register potential donors with the National Marrow Donor Program. Stoops was among 84 individuals, mostly players, who added their name to the registry. "You have the opportunity to save somebody's life,” Stoops said. "It's pretty neat when you think about it. I see a lot of kids at the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center that are awaiting bone marrow transplants, or awaiting matches. "Or I see a lot of them that have already had their match and had their transplant and are recovering from it. And I know the difference it makes in their lives.”
Reaching outEven kids focused on overcoming cancer know who Bob Stoops is. Some, however, may not be such big fans — at first. "Kids are so honest,” Tangner said. "They'll say, ‘I have to tell you, I don't like OU. I like OSU.' "And he'll say, ‘Well, that's OK. Everybody's got to like somebody.' And by the end, it's not even about football. It's about a friend.” And friend is the word most associated with Stoops in his relationships with the kids and their families. "Oh my goodness, each family thinks they're Bob Stoops' special patient,” said Dr. Rene McNall, a pediatric oncologist at the hospital. "He has this amazing way to remember all their names. "I can't tell you the number of patients and parents who are in the middle of this very stressful thing and they think Bob has this special place in his heart just for them. "And he does. He just has a way of making them all feel special.” T.J. Hutchings was a promising 17-year-old high school pitcher with a baseball scholarship to the University of North Texas when persistent pain on his right hip led to an MRI. Doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor, and diagnosed him with Ewing's sarcoma, a cancer that most often strikes between the ages of 10 and 20. They also found three spots on Hutchings' right lung. "I was in the hospital,” Hutchings said, "and cach Stoops came by and introduced himself, like I didn't already know him before.” A few months later, Hutchings' treatment ramped up — on his birthday no less — with radiation tacked on to chemotherapy. "They told me to come down to the nurses station,” Hutchings said. "They had all these balloons and stuff. I thought, ‘Oh, that's nice, the nurses threw a party for me.
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How to help
Inspired by Bob Stoops? Or just want to help and don't know how? One of the critical issues facing patients with cancer and other illnesses is the need for bone marrow transplants. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, only 30 percent of patients in need of marrow or blood cell transplants find a match within their family. The other 70 percent may turn to the NMDP to search for an unrelated donor. For information on becoming a potential donor, or to make a monetary contribution, visit www.marrow.org.