Members of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels use equipment worth millions of dollars all the time, but Friday they handled something even more precious when they visited young patients at Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital.
"We're here visiting those kids who might not be able to make the air show this weekend and show them that we are here for them," said Lt. Cmdr. Joe Schwartz, the Blue Angels' flight surgeon and a native of Arlington, Va.
The elite flying team is in town as part of Maryland Fleet Week and Air Show and is scheduled to perform over Baltimore on Saturday and Sunday.
Four Navy personnel came to the hospital Friday to meet patients and their families.
"The staff that have come in have been so great with our kids," said Lindie McDonough, a senior rehabilitation therapist at the hospital.
"So many of our patients and families are going through a lot of stress right now," she said, "and just to see their faces light up, to see the hope that they have ... just makes our day as well."
In one room, nurse Rachel Williams held up an 8-month-old boy as Schwartz stopped in for a visit.
"He was so fussy when we walked in, now he's relaxed," McDonough said.
Schwartz and Navy Hospital Corpsman Clarence Presley also met tiny 3-month-old Tyler Bachan and his parents. Tyler was born two months premature, and his mom and dad have spent the past two months at the hospital between work and naps at home.
"That was a surprise," said Tyler's father, Terry Bachan, of the Blue Angels visit. The Reisterstown couple said they'd have gone to Blue Angels demonstrations in prior years but won't make the Fleet Week activities as they tend to their young son.
At a treatment room downstairs, Presley sat next to a 4-year-old girl who was wearing "Frozen" pajamas at a table with other children. Presley and the girl each placed airplane stickers on a finger and pretended to "race" one another through the air.
Meanwhile, Jesse Bonham, a 9-year-old who was at Mount Washington to recover from recent leg surgery, quizzed Schwartz on how quickly and how high the Blue Angels fly in formation.
Jesse's mother, Amber Bonham, stood nearby and listened to the conversation. She said the family, who lives in Harford County, always watches for planes flying over Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"We've wanted to go to the events," Bonham said of Fleet Week, but she's busy between hospital visits, work and two other children. "It's hard, but you do what you got to do."
As the Blue Angles travel across the country and around the world, squadron members know their busy performance schedule — and a few thousand feet of altitude — prevent them from making direct contact with many of the people who would like to see them.
The visit to Mount Washington provided an opportunity for some eye-to-eye contact.
Schwartz, who has been a member of the Blue Angels team for two years, said it's a "wonderful experience" to meet flight fans.
"We hope to see them the next time we come to town," he said.
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