NFL Players Pay Surprise Visit to UAMS Cancer Institute

April 12, 2018 | UAMS patient C.M. McClain Jr. was not expecting to celebrate the final day of his treatment cycle with six NFL players, including a Heisman Trophy winner. But that’s exactly what he did.

UAMS patient Chris Wyrick (center) got a surprise visit from (from left) NFL trainer Abraham Holloway; former Seattle Seahawk Red Bryant; former Carolina Panther Dante Wesley; and Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson.

UAMS patient Chris Wyrick (center) got a surprise visit from (from left) NFL trainer Abraham Holloway; former Seattle Seahawk Red Bryant; former Carolina Panther Dante Wesley; and Cincinnati Bengal Michael Johnson.

The players came up one by one to shake his hand, introduce themselves and talk at length about his family, his treatment and why they have come back year after year to visit patients at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

“One player told me that his mom had been a nurse at UAMS and taught him the importance of caring for others. Another player and I talked about race relations. We had some great conversations,” said McClain, a former college football player who is being treated in the Cancer Institute’s Infusion Clinic 1 for chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

This was the fifth year that Denver Broncos defensive tackle and Jacksonville native Clinton McDonald organized his fellow players to visit the UAMS Cancer Institute.

“Coming back every year gives me perspective. The ultimate goal in life is good health, but cancer can affect anybody. We need to understand what other people are going through so we can make a difference in their lives and stay focused on what’s important in our own,” he said.

Accompanying McDonald on his visit were Jameis Winston, Heisman Trophy winner and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback; Demetrius Harris, fellow Jacksonville native and Kansas City Chiefs tight end; Dante Wesley, Pine Bluff native and retired Carolina Panthers and Detroit Lions cornerback; Michael Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end; and Joseph Anthony “Red” Bryant, retired Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle.

Demetrius Harris, of the Kansas City Chiefs, greets patient Weatherly Wolfe (center) and her mom, Zann Jordan.

Demetrius Harris, of the Kansas City Chiefs, greets patient Weatherly Wolfe (center) and her mom, Zann Jordan.

“Every time I come back, it’s a blessing. Anything we can do to relieve someone’s stress and make them smile is worth it,” said Johnson, who has accompanied McDonald for the past four years. “Clint is one of the best people I know. If he’s involved in something, I want be involved in it too,” he said.

The group stayed about two hours and made their way between the Cancer Institute’s two infusion clinics, visiting with each patient, passing out autographed footballs and taking selfies.

“It’s pretty neat of them to take time out of their day to stop by. I was feeling down in the dumps this morning, so this was good timing. It keeps our spirits up,” said Cara DeFlorian, who was being treated for breast cancer and was accompanied in the clinic by her two teenage daughters.

In addition to the patients, the Cancer Institute staff also enjoys the players’ annual visit and appreciates their continuing dedication to the central Arkansas community.

“The fact that Clinton McDonald continues to organize this visit year after year is a real testament to the fact that he values his home state and wants to give back to it. Our patients are always thrilled to visit with the players, and we appreciate the fact that they take the time to come back each year,” said Cancer Institute Director Peter Emanuel, M.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.

In addition to their visit to UAMS, the players also participated in McDonald’s annual Family Fun Day and Iron Sharpens Iron Youth Football and Cheer Camp on April 7 in his hometown of Jacksonville.