Keisel’s beard brings smiles to kids

January 29, 2013 by Teresa Varley

As Brett Keisel walked into Kyla Ruffing’s room at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the shy eight-year old looked surprised, and then broke into a sweet smile as she looked at the big guy standing beside her hospital bed.

When asked who it was, she didn’t say Keisel, but instead gave a much simpler answer, “The Beard.”  

“It was amazing,” said her mother Danielle Nagel. “I was really blown away. I wasn’t expecting him to walk through the door. It was great to see him.”

Ruffling quietly talked with Keisel, showing him what she was building with Lego’s. Then she slowly started coming out of her shell, pulling out the reason she knows him as “The Beard,” her own oversized beard she put on to compare to Keisel’s. Keisel admired the look, the two smoothed out their beards, and he even signed a team photo for her that read, “You have the best beard I have ever seen.”

“It was awesome,” said Keisel, who also enjoyed seeing other patients on the floor play with their beards. “To see them play along with it, they had so much fun with it. Kyla was so filled with life and joy. When so much is happening that she could be filled with negativity, she was exuberant and joyous and lifted me up. Seeing them run around with their beards and turning around and making them into mullets, it was awesome.”

It’s Keisel’s beard that has incredible meaning for the kids at Children’s Hospital, particularly those on the oncology floor where he visited. In another week he will shave off the beard at his annual “Shear Da Beard” event, and all proceeds go to cancer programs at the hospital. 

“It’s great,” said Dr. Jake Cooper, the attending physician in hematology and oncology. “Our floor is full always. We do our best to keep the kids happy and distracted when they are going through some tough medications and serious diagnosis. Having a local hero like Mr. Keisel show up is a wonderful surprise for the kids to have.”

Keisel went room to room, giving the kids Steelers teddy bears, bracelets and signed team photos, but also giving them smiles, hugs and love. And they gave him something much more.

“Every time I go in there I can’t help but get filled with emotion,” said Keisel. “The things these families and kids have to go through with their treatment, it’s very tough. It does fill me with emotion, but it fills me with pride at the same time knowing I am helping in a small way.”

He is helping in a much greater way than he realizes. It’s not just the financial impact that shaving the beard has, it goes far deeper.

“It’s a symbol, it’s a yearly tradition and the people here know it’s for them,” said Cooper. “The people here view his huge mammoth beard as a sign of his affection for Children’s Hospital and his support for all of our patients. They love it. You see a lot of fake beards being worn by the kids for solidarity and team spirit.”

And they are beards that will lovingly be worn long after Keisel shaves his off.
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Keisel and Kyla Ruffing.

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Keisel and 15-year old Jeremy Coast.
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Keisel and 11-year old Jetta Moore

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