Auburn Tigers, Minnesota Golden Gophers players visit TGH patients ahead of Outback Bowl

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It was a special day for many children at Tampa General Hospital on Friday, when players from the Auburn Tigers and Minnesota Golden Gophers stopped by for a visit.

The teams will face off on New Year’s Day at Raymond James Stadium but continued to spread holiday joy at the hospital before the showdown.

One of those special visitors was Golden Gophers field goal holder, Casey O’Brien.

He himself is a five-time cancer survivor. He’s spent over 300 nights in hospital rooms and has had 17 surgeries.

O’Brien was actually only cleared to fly to Tampa with his team on Monday, after having another surgery on his lungs for a cancerous spot.

Thankfully, he was deemed cancer-free before the journey.

“So, I mean, I know exactly what these kids are going through. So at home, I like to go hang out with kids who are in the same hospital I was at and the same beds that I slept and just kind of let them know they’re going to get through what they’re going through and that the doctors are taking care of them and doing everything that they can,” O’Brien explained. “So to be down here and to be able to do the same thing, kind of spread my message across the country is a really cool opportunity.”

O’Brien and his team, as well as their opponents, were even able to surprise a family of fans originally from their state of Minnesota.

Kelci Hornick’s little boy is at TGH to be checked for a bone infection. They’re hoping to get out of the hospital very soon, but appreciated Friday’s surprise.

“This was awesome! This was so surprising,” Hornick exclaimed. “We had no idea that they were going to be here. But we were super excited! I mean he’s not going to know what happened to him, but we got some awesome stuff to go with it!”

Friday’s visit is something O’Brien won’t soon forget.

He said he knows it’s important for younger kids to keep their minds off what they’re going through, and these surprises and visits from athletes often help that.

“I mean, to be able to get down to a warm-weather state and see a different hospital and be able to meet some kids who I’ve never seen before, it’s a cool experience,” he said.

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