Hunter Shrauger reclined in his hospital bed this week, waiting for his skin graft surgery, when he had some unexpected visitors.

Michigan State University (MSU) Athletic Director Mark Hollis, and his wife, Nancy, entered the room on the heels of hospitalist Leslie Jurecko, MD, wearing yellow gowns over their clothes and plastic gloves to prevent spreading germs to Hunter.

The Hollis duo learned the Jenison teen had been admitted to Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital this past weekend after suffering serious burns on his arms, back and legs from a go-kart accident.

They also learned that Hunter, 14, is an avid hockey player and fan. He has been playing hockey “as long as he can remember” and is a forward for the Grand Rapids Griffins Midget hockey team. His Alexander Ovechkin jersey from the Washington Capitals hung proudly on display across the room from his hospital bed.

Hollis knew exactly who Hunter should meet: Tom Anastos, the head coach for the MSU hockey team.

A little while later, Dr. Jurecko brought Anastos and his wife, Lisa, in to meet Hunter and his family. After greeting him, Coach Anastos complimented Hunter’s “hockey flow” hair and they struck up an easy conversation about hockey. Hunter showed Anastos his bandaged arms and legs, and shared the story of what happened.

Anastos encouraged Hunter, saying, “Most people don’t know how tough hockey players are.”

Hunter was one of many patients who interacted with the MSU head coaches and athletic administrators as part of MSU athletics’ annual team-building experience. In the past five years, Hollis and the head coaches have worked together to build a car, produce a TV show, and take care of horses on Mackinac Island.

This year they took on health care with a simulation at the MSU College of Human Medicine and activities at Spectrum Health. They experienced what it’s like to be a doctor, nurse or child life specialist.

Why did they choose health care?

“Your profession is certainly much more serious than what we do, but in some ways we’re not so different,” Hollis said. “You work in teams; we work in teams. We approach things the same way—learning and perfecting for success.”

Divided into small groups, coaches experienced different aspects of typical activities that occur each day inside the hospital.

Coaches Jake Boss Jr. (baseball), Kathie Klages (gymnastics), Casey Lubahn (men’s golf), Damon Rensing (soccer), Tom Saxton (women’s soccer) and Matt Weise (women’s rowing) teamed up with physicians and visited adult patients in Butterworth Hospital.

Meanwhile coaches Anastos, Matt Gianiodis (swimming and diving), Suzy Merchant (women’s basketball), Tom Minkel (wrestling), Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll (women’s golf), and Hollis partnered with pediatric physicians to check on patients in Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Another group of coaches worked with child life specialists, first with music therapy and then medical play.

Surrounded by the sounds of children talking and playing games in the play room, coaches Cathy George (volleyball) and Tom Izzo (men’s basketball) sat in the circle around music therapist Bridget Sova.

They tried their hand at instruments such as the ocean drum and xylophone, all the while chatting with kids. Gene Orlando (men’s tennis) and Helen Knull (field hockey) used drums to help give a song a “big finish” as instructed by Sova.

In medical play, kids were the coaches and the MSU coaches the students. Each received their own medical play doll and took turns learning from young patients about medical procedures.

Cody Hodges, 12, taught them how to carefully start an IV line; Aliah Wachter, 4, the proper way to put on a cast; Eleazar Tomas Mazariegos, 6, what to expect when you have an MRI; and Dawson Babiak, 5, how to start a port line.

Afterward, Izzo signed Cody’s shirt, “Cody, great job teaching me, go State, Tom Izzo.”

“I told them it looks like a donut. And sounds like an airplane,” said Eleazar about the MRI. “It was interesting.”

“It was great for them to come and interact with the kids,” added Rabecca Wachter, Aliah’s mom.

The last group of coaches visited the small baby unit within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. This unit within the larger unit is designed specifically to meet the medically complex needs of babies born at or before 27 weeks, often referred to as micro preemies.

After a short stop in the small baby unit to see some of the hospital’s tiniest patients, coaches Mark Dantonio (football), Jacquie Joseph (softball), Simone Jardim (women’s tennis) and Paul Schager (associate athletic director) participated in a simulation of a parent practicing skin-to-skin with “Dolly,” a 1 lb. 6 oz. weighted preemie doll.

In real life, transferring one of these micro preemies from an isolette to the parent is at least a 40-minute process and involves a team of about seven people to continuously monitor the baby as well as manage medical equipment and cords. In one abbreviated simulation version with the NICU team, Joseph served as a nurse and Dantonio a parent.

Both took their roles seriously. Joseph moved the doll slowly in coordination with the other nurses and, once in his arms, Dantonio held the “baby” with care against his chest.

At the end of the afternoon, coaches talked about their health care experience, calling it “eye-opening,” “intense,” “fun,” and a “great experience.”