After initial shock, Kara finds a friend
Draper's call surprises teen leukemia patient
September 18, 2002
BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
TRAVERSE CITY -- One Saturday afternoon in August, Dave Spindler was watching golf on television with his 16-year-old daughter, Kara, when the phone rang. He answered. He smiled.
It was for her.
"Kara," he said, "here is a call you have to take."
He handed her the receiver.
"Hi," the caller said, "this is Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings."
Kara was so shocked she couldn't speak.
"I just started crying," she recalled. "I did not believe it."
Kara was in a Lansing hospital fighting leukemia, and here was her favorite hockey player calling her -- her! -- to see how she was doing.
"It was just so totally amazing," she said.
The Wings receive thousands of requests for children in such situations each year. They can't honor all of them, because of the sheer numbers and their schedules, but they do what they can -- almost always without publicity.
They took the Stanley Cup to children in hospitals all over North America and Europe over the summer. Draper took it to Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit days after the final game. Steve Yzerman took it to three hospitals in one day this month.
The Wings visit with almost 100 children individually each year. And sometimes they make a special connection.
Draper called Kara after hearing about her from Wings community relations manager Anne Marie Krappmann.
"She was going through a critical time in her treatment, and a phone call was the least I could do to help get her spirits up and take her mind off things," said Draper, father of a 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Kennedi. "It's not the easiest thing to do, but you put it in perspective."
Draper could tell Kara couldn't talk at first.
"I'm like, 'Hello?' " he said.
So he carried the conversation for about 15 or 20 minutes, telling her about the team, winning the Cup, whatever came to mind.
"He was just very cool with it all," Kara said. "I didn't feel any pressure that I had to think of something to talk about."
He asked her if she had any questions, and she told him she had a ton but couldn't think of any right now. So he told her to make a list and he would call her back in a couple of days.
She did, and sure enough, he did.
She asked him about how he got started in hockey, his bobblehead doll, the whole Claude Lemieux thing.
"He was very open and honest," Kara said.
"He's just a very easy person to talk to. Once you get past the fact that you're talking to Kris Draper, he turns into more of a friend."
She asked him whether he had an e-mail address so that she could keep in touch with him, but he did better than that. He gave her his home and cell phone numbers.
"She was pretty excited," Draper said. "I'm thinking, 'If I can keep her excited, if I can help her keep fighting . . .' "
They talked about once a week, and he said he wanted to meet her. She was well enough to come from her home in Shepherd to training camp, and when she had only four tickets and needed three more, he said no problem.
After Draper finished his workout Saturday, he walked off to the side -- away from the media and the crowd -- and gave Kara a big hug. He introduced her and her family to some of his teammates, then took them to lunch.
"Oh, I didn't know how I was going react," Kara said. "I didn't know if I was going to be nervous or if I was going to start crying or whatever, but I feel so comfortable with him because I've talked to him so many times. It was just great. It just means a lot to me that he would take the time."